On a 90-degree Saturday in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Paul Dawkins was dressed in a polyester Iron Man costume, promoting his upcoming Superhero/Sci Fi Festival in Brooklyn.
Though he was sweating beneath the mask, gloves and long-sleeved costume, Mr. Dawkins kept his cool and stayed in character, drawing children and adults to his display table at a Family Fun Day gathering at Restoration Plaza on Fulton Street.
“Do you have to have a kid to come?” asked one older gentleman, looking at the fliers for the festival, scheduled for June 23.
“No, no, not at all,” answered Abdul Koroma, working the table. “Adults are invited, too.”
The man smiled and said: “I’m like a kid. I haven’t given up yet.”
Mr. Dawkins’s nonprofit outreach organization, New York State of Mind, runs the festival. The Superhero/Sci Fi Festival is in its second year, and will feature a cast of superheroes — including Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman and Black Panther. And, of course, Iron Man.
“Last year, I was Iron Man, a Mario Brother and a Ninja Turtle,” said Mr. Koroma, laughing. “I really get into the character, but I had to ad-lib a bit.” Last year at the festival, which was held in Bed-Stuy, one boy called him out and said Raphael — the Ninja Turtle — doesn’t have a mustache. Mr. Koroma does. “I had to create my own story and tell him I’m on vacation, so I grew my mustache out.”
This year’s festival will be held at Martinez Playground and Heckscher Community Garden in Williamsburg. It will include characters from Marvel, DC, Star Wars and Star Trek, who volunteers other than Mr. Koroma and Mr. Dawkins will play, which will free them up to run other things, such as a bouncy house, carnival games, and arts and crafts tables where children can make their own costumes and build their own light sabers.
Unlike Comic-Con, the multimillion-dollar entertainment and comic convention that charges attendees around $50 a day, this superhero festival is free. Around 200 people are expected, though they’re preparing for more.
“I knew all about Comic-Con,” said Mr. Dawkins. “And so we wanted to do something concrete to help the community, do something more interactive and think outside the box, do something no one else was doing.”
All the workers are volunteers, including high school students from Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science, and the event is produced on a budget of around $1,500.
“So we have to be very creative,” said Mr. Koroma. “We all try and think out of the box.” Swimming pool noodles will form the basis for light sabers. Bits of fabric will be on hand for the kids’ costumes.
Before Mr. Koroma, Mr. Dawkins and Kimberly Kinnard, the third member of the group, formed NYSoM, as New York State of Mind is known, they had volunteered with different organizations starting in 2008. They put together events for teens at Covenant House, an organization that helps homeless children, like fashion shows and ice cream making, and they did arts and crafts with children at Bellevue Hospital.
But Mr. Dawkins, 36, who works full-time as a financial analyst and who grew up in the Queensbridge housing projects in Long Island City, wanted to do more for the community. He decided he and his two associates should form their own nonprofit. So NYSoM was born.
“He was forming this super group,” said Ms. Kinnard. “He wanted to take what we were doing and make it grow.” In 2013, they started organizing their own events.
The Superhero/Sci Fi Festival is just one of many programs the three members of NYSoM plan and operate throughout the year. Each spring they run a large Easter egg hunt and celebration in East Harlem, their biggest event of the year, which usually draws around 1,000 people. They hold annual back-to-school supply drives in both Bed-Stuy and East Harlem each August. From March to November, they participate in Hunger No More, handing out care packages to the homeless around Midtown.
“I tell my friends to save all their little shampoos and tiny toothpastes from their hotel visits, so I can include them in the packages,” said Ms. Kinnard. “It’s nothing for them, but it’s a lot to the people we give it to.”
Mr. Koroma, who grew up in Jersey City and now works as a business intelligence analyst, said all the events they host throughout the city “promote a positive environment where the community can express themselves.”
For Ms. Kinnard, a human resources consultant who grew up in the Bronx, it’s all about sharing a positive image, which goes far beyond dressing up as Wonder Woman. At Covenant House, she’s been working with mothers and children to try and help them see past the present moment.
“My goal is to do self-reflection projects, like ‘Where do you see yourself in a couple of years?’” She has the young mothers create collages using images from magazines to represent the homes they may live in or the college they might attend.
The dream isn’t to leap tall buildings in a single bound or to rid Gotham of super villains.
“The goal,” she said, “is to bust down the ceilings for those who come after us.”
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