Local civic leaders Rev. andrew j. brown, Willard B. Ransom Jr., and James C. Cummings Jr. founded Indiana Black Expo (IBE) in 1971 modeling it after a similar event called Operation PUSH initiated in Chicago. These Indianapolis civic leaders organized the first one-day exposition at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on June 19, 1971, to highlight the talents and achievements of African Americans and identify and address their challenges. The organization incorporated in 1973 as a not-for-profit corporation.

Local coordinators and regional chairmen of the 1973 Indiana Black Expo. Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

The focal point of Black Expo is the summer celebration held every year in the middle of July.  Its annual “Summer Celebration” has grown enormously over the years, extending from 1 to 10 days. It is billed as the largest African American event of its kind in the nation with various events attracting approximately 500,000 visitors. The celebration takes place at numerous Indianapolis venues including the Indianapolis Convention Center, Monument Circle, Madame Walker Theatre on historic Indiana Avenue, Ncaa Headquarters, and the Lucas Oil Stadium to name a few. These venues feature symposia, seminars, corporate and organizational booths, educational, economic, religious, and youth forums, an NCAA coach’s luncheon, an employment opportunity fair, a coronation, pep rally, and an array of entertainment events.

The second main event of Black Expo is the Circle City Classic. Charles Williams, then president of IBE, founded and organized the first Circle City Classic in 1984 with a $150,000 ($370,000 in 2020) lilly endowment, Inc. grant. In association with the Indiana Sports Corporation, the event is recognized as the second-largest football game pitting historically Black colleges and universities against one another. Indiana Sports Corporation and IBE also cosponsor the “We Can Feed the Hungry” program during the Christmas season.

President George W. Bush receives the Black Expo Lifetime Achievement Award from Black Expo chairman Arvis Dawson during the Indiana Black Expo Corporate Luncheon in Indianapolis, Indiana, Thursday, July 14, 2005. Credit: Eric Draper, View Source

Other programs include the Indiana Black Expo scholarship fund established in 1984 to recognize and assist deserving minority students who are pursuing higher education. A Youth and Telecommunications Workshop and a nine-month communications program, deployed in 1983 to train youth in the rudiments of television and cable production, are additional initiatives that IBE sponsors.

In 2019, Indiana Black Expo purchased the Crossroads Bible College Building on Indianapolis’ eastside to relocate its headquarters from its longtime home at the 3100 block of North Meridian Street in downtown Indianapolis. The IBE Media Institute, an ongoing after-school initiative has benefited from Black Expo’s 43,000-square-foot headquarters and the organization’s two main fundraising efforts. Located in the Youth Programming Wing of IBE’s Performing Arts Academy (located within the headquarters) students learn about emerging technologies such as music production and videography, as well as other art forms like dance, acting, and photography. The Performing Arts Academy offers training to students ages 13 to 19 and served 120 youth in its initial year, 2019. Black Expo anticipates serving upward of 300 youth and plans to lean on IBE’s relationship with celebrity entertainers to provide master classes to distinguish its program from others.

Nick Curry at Indiana Black Expo, 2017 Credit: Indiana University Indianapolis View Source

Since its inception in 1971, Indiana Black Expo has transformed from a grassroots movement hosting a one-day exposition to a statewide organization that works year-round. It operates 12 chapters around the state with approximately 3,000 members nationwide. The staff includes 25 volunteer board members and a staff of 19 full-time and 3 part-time governors. The governors are tasked with implementing the board’s policies. Black Expo’s mission is to serve as a voice and vehicle for the social, educational, and economic advancement of African Americans.

Fundraising efforts have supported services for roughly 400,000 youth and scholarships in the amount of $4.6 million over the last 35 years have enabled higher education to the next generation of African Americans.

Revised March 2021

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