When he walks through Downtown Norfolk or Ghent, people frequently ask him if he is on his way to Comicon or a cosplay convention.
Daredevil, Spider-Man, or, most commonly, Deadpool, are monikers people have called him. But naw. He’s The Black Widow. Not to be confused with Black Widow from the Avengers. Just remember to say THE Black Widow, and it’s all good. (Technically, he should be called the Black Widower, but that has a lot of syllables).
Dressed in red and black spandex with a mask that does, in fact, look nearly identical to the Marvel comic book character Deadpool, The Black Widow describes himself first and foremost as a “helper at helping people,” according to his Facebook page. He patrols the streets for crime prevention, to give first aid to those who are hurt, and help homeless people, primarily. He can frequently be found near large crowds, such as outside the NorVa. While he is trained in martial arts, he aims to stop fights from happening by approaching people and trying to help them talk it out. He doesn’t visit homeless shelters, instead performing what he refers to as “field work,” which means going around and handing out supplies to homeless people. While out patrolling, he also spends time talking to people one on one, which he calls “counseling.”
The Black Widow has been in action patrolling since March 2015, and specifically in Norfolk since September of 2015. He carries a first aid kit, pepper spray, multi tools, an expandable baton, and has LED flashlights on his wrists. So far, he hasn’t had to use any of them. “What makes you a true fighter and a true hero is your mind and your heart,” he said.
The Black Widow is not particularly a comic book fanatic, and while he he has seen the film Kick Ass, which involved an ordinary high school student who dressed in a green scuba diving suit to patrol the streets of New York and fight crime, that isn’t what really inspired him.
“We often get bullied,” he said. “We all have trauma that makes us who we are. It gives you a purpose. It can be a positive or a negative thing. It depends how you take it. I decided to turn it around, to become better.”
Starting out with a Spider-Man suit, The Black Widow quickly decided that he wanted to develop his own persona, and made a suit himself, due to what he calls “#brokelife.” Most of his costume is comprised of spandex from thrift stores, and some from Under Armor.
Aside from a few close friends and a handful of Norfolk Police Officers, the Black Widow does keep his real identity secret. One condition of his interview with this writer is that he came (to Café Stella) in costume. He did mention, however, that he attended Oscar Smith High School, and that he has a certificate in welding, which led to him being trained in first aid and CPR. Although The Black Widow does occasionally attend cosplay conventions, in which attendees dress as their favorite fictional character, he says the world of cosplay is not his main focus. And, while performing the same general activities as Real Life Superheroes (RLSH), such as Phoenix Jones, leader of Seattle’s now disbanded Rain City Superhero Movement, the Black Widow does not specifically identify with any larger costume crime fighter movements.
As might be expected, The Black Widow’s presence has drawn some attention from the Norfolk Police. At the Grand Illumination Parade last November, police officers searched him and unmasked him, but did not arrest him. And, a few weeks ago, at the Norfolk Sister March of the Women’s March on Washington, Norfolk Police officers again confronted him, and told him that he could not wear the mask in public. While it is, indeed, a criminal offense to wear a mask in public in Virginia, The Black Widow believes he falls under an exception to the law for people who wear masks as part of a trade or occupation. In any event, he didn’t stop wearing the mask when I met with him..
“Never be afraid to be who you are,” said The Black Widow as he got up to leave Café Stella, and disappeared back into the night. “Because at the end of the day, I know I’ve accomplished something.”