Brickworld During the Great Quarantine of 2020

30 Oct 2021

Written by Barbara Hoel

During the Great Quarantine of 2020, due to COVID-19, conventions turned to virtual platforms to connect the AFOL community.  Brickworld, headquartered in Chicago, USA, held five conventions over the course of the year.  We introduced the Brick Alliance during the October event with a presentation about our mission and goals.  In December, we hosted a “round table,” giving attendees an opportunity to share with us why an organization like the Brick Alliance would be important to them.

As always, we learned so much just by listening.  A total of about 20 people shared the Zoom room with four Brick Alliance founders/organizers – Megan Lum, Alice Finch, Alex Johnson, and myself.  After brief introductions from the four of us, we opened the “floor” to the room, inviting anyone to introduce themselves and share why they were in the room.  And no one stepped forward.  After a moment of confusion, I decided to invite each person, by name, to speak, one after the other.  That small gesture changed the experience for everyone and taught me a huge lesson.

I learned that people who have not felt seen or heard, do not feel safe volunteering information.  By recognizing each person by name and inviting them to be part of the discussion, many shared that they no longer felt invisible or on the “outside” looking in.  Several people in the group said this was the first time anyone had acknowledged them or made them feel welcome during a LEGO event. 

Some of the stories shared with the group were quite personal, others were anecdotal observations.  

We learned from a mother about hidden disabilities, also known as invisible disabilities.  These can include physical and mental disabilities.  The reason this is important to be aware of is that we should not assume a person we are interacting with can participate in an activity or conversation the same way as the person next to them.  She told us that she and her daughter had a disability that was not visible and LEGO building was a shared passion for them. She also shared that participation in AFOL events was not always accessible because disabilities were not being considered when events were planned.  

Another person shared his struggle with OCD and his extreme safety fears that almost completely shut down his artistic career.  LEGO building enabled him to continue as an artist when other mediums were no longer accessible to him.  He said he was also grateful to the AFOL community that welcomed him because it helped him to not become “shut-in,” especially in the time of COVID-19.  

Other shared stories included an Hispanic AFOL who had never had anyone ask him a question or invite him into a conversation.  He said that our round table was inspirational and he hoped there would be continued opportunities to talk.  A woman new to the LEGO community shared that she had started a Youtube channel because she didn’t see any black women builders and wanted to put herself out there so that other black women would not feel alone in the hobby.  And finally, rounding out the conversation, we heard from several people who had joined the conversation as allies after observing abusive or dismissive behavior of one group of AFOLs towards another either on-line or in person. 

The take away from this discussion was that we, as individuals and event planners, need to make room for everyone to feel safe and welcome.  This might mean changing venue space for accessibility; allowing more time for some activities – i.e., including games at AFOL events that aren’t centered around speed building or building skills; including more small social gatherings so new AFOLs and veteran AFOLs can meet, and finally, making a concerted effort to acknowledge new AFOLs and learn their names so that we can help them feel welcomed and seen.