ATLANTA - When 25-year-old Charles Conley, a Kennesaw State University student, donned his homemade Batman costume for this year's Dragon Con in Atlanta, an encounter with a young boy at the popular sci-fi convention inspired an important conversation about representation.
The boy, about 5 or 6 years old, tugged on his mother's hand when he saw Conley in character at the convention.
Conley, metal armor and all, approached the boy for a high-five.
"With all the force he could muster he slapped my hand, with the biggest smile on his face," Conley chronicled in a Facebook post, which has garnered more than 12,000 likes and 5,000 shares as of Monday.
"You're brown, just like me!" the boy said to him. "Does that mean that I can be a real superhero someday too? I don't see a lot of brown superheros (sic) ..."
In that moment, Conley ignored his "#1 batman rule and removed (his) cowl" to show the boy his face, tears and all.
"You can be any superhero you want to be and don't let anyone tell you different," Conley told him.
"For kids like this little boy, the idea that you can one day be a superhero, no matter what your skin color is, opens up a whole new world for them," he wrote.
"This is why I cosplay. This is why I'm The Batman. #RepresentationMatters."
Conley, a California transplant who has called Georgia home for 10 years now, works two full-time jobs and is currently seeking a teaching degree at KSU.
He cosplays regularly and professionally, but told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that ever since his story went viral, cosplayers of color, which he said make up a very small percentage of the cosplay community, have been sharing experiences in which they felt the color of their skin has either prevented them or discouraged them from portraying a certain character.
"Blackface, brownface and yellow face have been used as a means to belittle and disenfranchise (people of color) for centuries," he said. But at the end of the day, after you've had your "fun" wearing someone else's skin, you get to take it off, he said.
People of color, however, have to live with this skin and the hardships that come with it daily, he said.
"I don't need to paint my skin white to cosplay as Batman, because me being brown doesn't make me any less qualified," Conley said, adding that unlike Batman, most people aren't billionaires in real life, either.
Conley said he hopes cosplayers of color let their costumes speak for themselves. Put the work in and love the skin you're in, he said.
"Make that character YOU."