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In character for a cause

By day, Alexander Sloan McBryde is a self-described “actor, writer…occasional college student when I can afford it.” By night (and weekends), he transforms into a hero—literally.

McBryde is a member of The Superhero Alliance of Western New York, a non-profit dedicated to raising money for children’s programs through making appearances dressed as heroes (and villains) from some of the most legendary cartoons and films of all time.

The Alliance was loosely formed in 2014 by a group of cosplay enthusiasts in an effort to raise money to save a Lockport skating rink that was in danger of closing due to an unpaid tax bill. From there, things just sort of went up, up and away.

Bill Reynolds, executive director of the Alliance, has been around since the beginning. With more than 25 pricey costumes in his closet (he confesses he may need an intervention), Reynolds says knowing he can brighten the day of a sick child by offering an escape from their reality—even if only for a few moments—is gratifying.

“For so many of these kids, their world is filled with a lot of dark and sad moments,” he says. “If I can give that child a little joy to deposit in their bank, to draw on when things get heavy and they need a lift, I love that.”

In character for a cause | Buffalo Magazine

Black Widow (Sherri Lyn Litz), Spider-Woman (Kayla Lynn Ozimek), Gamora (Angelica Rochford), Superman (Malachai Miller) and Batman (Bill Reynolds) at Patrick's Rooftop, 500 Pearl. (Dave Jarosz)

In 2018, the group earned official status as a non-profit organization, and today they have more than 70 members assuming the personas of as many as 150 different characters. Every costume is vetted closely by a panel of Alliance members for accuracy based on a chosen reference photo before it’s approved to debut at an appearance.

“This organization brings together a bunch of people who share a common interest,” Reynolds says. “They are passionate not only about cosplay, but about helping kids.”

Reynolds estimates the group makes well over 50 appearances in a given year. Those can range from a few superheroes visiting children at a hospital to dozens of crusaders performing at Sahlen Field for the annual Buffalo Bisons Superhero Night.

From posing for photos with young fans before the game begins to an elaborately choreographed on-field, post-game performance, Reynolds says it’s the organization’s signature event.

In character for a cause | Buffalo Magazine

The Alliance brings many beloved comic characters to life, including the Spideys, for Superhero Night at the Buffalo Bisons. (Michael Majewski)

“The proceeds from Superhero Night go to the Mental Health Association (of Erie County) CASA program, which supports and provides volunteers to be with children as they go through the system,” Reynolds says.

The group has also been longtime supporters of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Courage of Carly Fund as well as Oishei Children’s Hospital.

Reynolds says the Alliance is always looking for new opportunities to reach children and expand their impact in Western New York. At the same time, the all-volunteer organization limits its outreach to within 75 miles of Buffalo to be most effective in its mission. With that in mind, the group connected with the folks at the new Explore & More Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Children’s Museum about hosting an epic event in October.

“We partnered with them to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Batman’s introduction to our culture,” Reynolds says. “We try to focus our efforts on children’s health and wellness, so they were a natural partner for us.”

In character for a cause | Buffalo Magazine

Red Skull is one of more than 25 characters in executive director Bill Reynolds' repertoire. (Brody Wheeler Photography)

For the museum, part of the allure of the new downtown location was the ability to host events and bring even more young people into the museum and introduce them to the world of play.

“We were delighted to host the Superhero Alliance and their adventure-loving guests who get a kick out of having the museum all to themselves to play. It’s so much fun,” says Jeannine Weber Kahabka, director of marketing and public relations at Explore & More. “We’ve had the pleasure of working with them many times over the years. We admire the great work they do bringing smiles to children and then using the proceeds from their events to support children in need.”

Though the large events are splashy and make for great photo opportunities, it’s the visits to places like the Children’s Hospital or Roswell Park that the superheroes say is the most important part of what they do.

“I used to be a soldier, and I’ve seen horrible things,” McBryde says. “So, to be able to bring some levity, some beauty and joy to the world, that’s why I do this.”

He said nothing compares to the look on a child’s face when he walks into a room at Roswell Park or for Make a Wish dressed as Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Black Lightning or any of the other characters he portrays.

“Their eyes get so big when they see you, and in that moment, you are their hero,” he says. “The fact that you were able to give them that experience, that’s a grand moment.”

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