When April Bowler found community in The Official Hip-Hop/Anime/Gaming Community on Facebook, she didn‘t just join in on the fun, but made it her mission to bolster and empower its members however she could.
In addition to becoming a member and moderator, doing what she could to grow the community and help it thrive, the group inspired her to create H.A.G Entertainment, a marketing and creative agency for urban nerd culture, designed specifically to support her community and amplify the voices of Black nerds (or “Blerds“) everywhere. She also established the Blerd Business Network, a professional networking group with all kinds of resources for creators and business owners. Recently, she‘s teamed up with The Otaku Box to host Blerd Bash meetups across the United States, and ahead of her upcoming Blerd Bash events in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sep. 4, and in Orlando, Florida on Sep. 24, we got the chance to chat with April all about her community work, entrepreneurship and what being a Blerd truly means to her.
Sweety High: Tell us about The Official Hip-Hop/Anime/Gaming Community. What does the community mean to you, and how has joining it changed your life?
April Bowler: The Official Hip-Hop/Anime/Gaming Community is a community where people from diverse backgrounds can come together over their shared love for three forms of entertainment: hip-hop, anime and gaming. It‘s a space that provides an opportunity to explore our interests, learn something new and connect with people from all walks of life. Our community is primarily powered by Facebook Groups and Facebook as a whole has been instrumental to our success. The community for me has nurtured some of my strongest adult friendships and provided me with the support, motivation, confidence and resources to pursue my dreams. It introduced me to subjects I wasn‘t very familiar with while allowing me to geek out and share my intimate knowledge in areas I am passionate about. The community has changed my life in so many ways. Most notably, the support from our community members has allowed me to become a full-time entrepreneur and pursue two of my deepest passions: providing a platform to connect people and traveling.
SH: What would you say are the fandoms that mean the most to you? Why?
AB: The fandoms I am most deeply connected with are gaming and tech/gadgets. I started gaming when I was in grade school and have always been the biggest gamer amongst my family, circle of friends and significant others. Whether it was me and my cousins playing GoldenEye on Nintendo 64 in the ‘90s, my college roommates having Mario Party nights in our apartment or having community game nights in the H.A.G Discord server, some of my fondest memories with friends and family involve video games. I‘m very blessed to have the role I do now that allows me to stay closely connected to the gaming community. By managing the group, I get to stay up to speed on industry news and new game releases. And by taking a more business approach, I get to host events at some of the best gaming lounges and esports centers in North America and speak with high-level employees of some of the world‘s leading companies in the gaming industry.
SH: What do you think are the most important elements of fostering a positive and inclusive community? How do you nurture that community, and what advice do you have for others who want to do the same?
AB: To me, some of the most important elements of fostering a positive and inclusive community are understanding, patience, respect and communication. Early on in the creation of our community, while I was still very new at moderating, I was less tolerant of other people‘s backgrounds and perspectives. I had a moral and social justice compass that if someone was on the other side they were evil, ignorant and deplorable to me. I acted a lot from a place of emotion and I would be quick to want to remove or silence someone who shared a different view. I believe that had I never taken on an admin role in the community, I might not have ever grown to the extent I have now. Now I have a deep appreciation for the fact that everyone has a different perspective and personal experiences that formed those perspectives. I take the opportunity to learn from others and I appreciate it when someone can share their perspective and discuss a topic in a civil manner. I‘ve even changed my viewpoint on some matters. Although I might not be able to relate to a specific experience someone has had, I can certainly try to understand them and understand why their experience has led them to hold certain beliefs and opinions.
Patience is important because everyone is in a different place when it comes to discussing sensitive topics. Some people are how I used to be, and as an admin or moderator, you have to slowly make progress with them and help them grow as communicators. Respect is very important because no voice should be diminished just because it differs. Everyone should be given an opportunity to express themselves, which also means there‘s an opportunity for them to learn or for them to teach others around them. Lastly, communication is important because it is necessary to talk civilly and for admins and moderators to clearly share the community‘s policies and objectives.
SH: How have you created a business out of supporting your community? What have been your biggest entrepreneurial strengths to get to where you are today?
AB: H.A.G Entertainment was founded in 2018 as an advertising and media outlet with Facebook as our main platform. The evolution to forming a business was quite natural as it arose out of a desire to support our community and provide a space where members and their works, talents and voices could be amplified. Facebook Groups were the obvious medium to foster that sense of community, which remains the core of our mission and reason for success. In 2019, we hosted our first event in Houston, Texas, which was called the “Throw Down Party Tour.“ This is the predecessor to what we have now called “Blerd Bash.“
As we continued hosting more events, we had more community members that wanted to get involved, whether it was as a performer, vendor or special guest. We realized that our events, in addition to our online platform, could really provide an opportunity for our community members to grow their brands, but we noticed there was additional support they were needing that was within our capability to provide. Our community is home to a lot of music artists, comic book creators, podcasters, content creators and small businesses of all varieties, and we noticed a prevalent issue: the sense of feeling overwhelmed or “stuck“ trying to grow a brand from scratch without ample resources, experience or strategy.
Having worked 10 years at a Fortune 100 company in their visual communications organization, I had developed a variety of skills, including video production, graphic design, web development, project management and more. It also didn‘t hurt that some of these tasks I had also been doing since I was a pre-teen (I programmed a Smallville fansite when I was 12 and it was one of the most active fan communities for the show at the time). We evolved H.A.G Entertainment to be an agency that offers a variety of professional services for growing and well-established brands. We founded the Blerd Business Network, which is a professional networking group and suite of resources to empower Black content creators and small business owners.
SH: Can you tell us a little bit about your partnership with The Otaku Box? How have you joined forces with them to host new conventions all across the country? What makes these conventions one-of-a-kind?
AB: The Otaku Box has been a lovely sponsor. They were really understanding of the fact that we are a small company and we put a lot of hard work to make our events enjoyable for our guests and successful for any brand we are activating. They really invested in us to produce four events in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Orlando. We worked closely with them to establish goals, strategy, KPIs and deliverables for their company, and we had a wonderful time working closely with them. We‘re looking forward to working with more brands and helping them connect with our hip-hop, anime and video game-loving audience.
SH: What does it mean to you to be a “Blerd“? Is it meaningful to you to inspire other nerds and show them they‘re definitely not alone?
AB: Blerd is a portmanteau of the phrase “Black nerd.“ I think Black nerdom comes in many fashions. Someone might be an anime nerd while another person is a Trekkie or a gamer or a tabletop board game nerd, etc. Being a Black nerd is being a member of a subculture within a subculture, two often ostracized groups. Unfortunately, you‘ll hear of people, regardless of race, who were picked on for being a nerd. You also have Black people who have been picked on or discriminated against because of the color of their skin. There are also Black people who are interested in pop culture (aka nerds) who might have been picked on by other Black people who are not into that stuff while simultaneously not being welcomed in all of the nerd circles because they are Black. It‘s important for Blerds to have safe spaces to connect with others over their fandoms while still having their cultural identity and interests understood, appreciated and reciprocated.
SH: Tell us about your upcoming events in Philadelphia and Orlando! What are the events all about, and what can fans expect from them?
AB: Blerd Bash is a celebration of urban nerd culture. It‘s best described as the fandom and fanfare of a convention on a more intimate and upbeat level like a nightclub, lounge or house party. Our event series is designed as a tour, so we are trying to make our way to as many major cities in North America as we can. In fact, in May 2022, my co-founder and I sold our home and most of our belongings and bought a bus we are converting into an RV, so we will soon be living on the road full-time. We have already gone to Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa, Chicago and Detroit, with Philadelphia and Orlando scheduled at the time of this writing. We‘re looking at possibly one to three additional events before the end of 2022, with a possible expansion to Canada and the United Kingdom in 2023. The event features a variety of activities to keep guests entertained, whether it‘s the cosplay dance party jamming out to old and new school hip-hop/rap/R&B hits, the showcase of local up-and-coming hip-hop artists, our cosplay contests, food and drinks or a variety of other activities.
Every event is unique largely due to the fact that every venue we go to is different and has different floorplans and amenities available. Sometimes, the floorplan allows for us to have vendors, which enables us to support small businesses and artists. When the event is hosted at a gaming lounge or esports center we also have a variety of video games for people to enjoy. People find our events a great opportunity to network and be around people with similar interests.
SH: Is there anything else we should know about you and your work?
AB: We‘re very blessed to have found what we are good at and passionate about, supported by a strong community and equipped with invaluable tools and resources like Facebook Groups and Pages. Our mission is to continue supporting those around us by providing opportunities, resources and a positive and rewarding platform. We‘re so proud of how far we‘ve come as people, entrepreneurs and as a community, and we‘re excited about what lies ahead. If anyone is interested in supporting us, we ask that you simply follow our socials, engage with us and help us help you. Most importantly, to truly get a better understanding of the supportive community we‘ve built, one must actually be in the community and have their own experience. We invite everyone to join our family and see for themself.
- H.A.G Entertainment was founded by Lo Cunningham. April Bowler joined Lo a few months later as a co-founder.