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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Will Black Expo choose chaos or community?

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I was standing inside the Steak & Shake at Ground Zero (Illinois and Maryland streets) at 9:30 on Black Expo Saturday night. Public Safety Director Dr. Frank Straub and I were waiting to order milkshakes, when we heard loud noises outside and screaming inside. Two people yelled “Duck.” I did. Straub headed for the noise and commotion.

A few minutes later, I emerged from the restaurant into chaos. A young Black male lay wounded in the leg 20 feet from me as Straub and other officers tended to him and a younger wounded youth at the intersection. Police and volunteer faith based workers professionally did their jobs; and did them well.

The peril of Black-on-Black violence plaging our community was made real to me and plunged Indiana Black Expo into the second most serious crisis in its 40 years. Second only to Expo’s dire economic straits after they brought Natalie Cole to town one time too many.

Indiana Black Expo didn’t cause a wayward 17-year-old to shoot and wound nine people Saturday night, just 30 minutes before Black Expo and Teen Bling events ended. Expo didn’t cause the prevailing attitude of some Black youth that brandishing firearms and using them on crowded sidewalks is acceptable behavior.

But, Indiana Black Expo bears some responsibility for creating an environment – both real and perceived – that Expo events are tailored more to pre-teens and teens; while families and adults are ignored.

And because Expo was created from the heart, soul, sweat and tears of our Black community, our community has the moral responsibility to put it in check; and demand it change its ways!

The crowd milling downtown Saturday outside and inside Expo was the lowest in many, many years. Though the violence outraged many, there’ve been shooting deaths downtown during past Black Expos – two incidents this decade, others in the previous two decades.

What turned this incident into a white hot media and public frenzy was (1) the number of injured; (2) its brazenness; and (3) the fact that a TV camera was there when the bullets whizzed.

WISH-TV/Channel 8’s footage of the chaos and their decision to go live with special reports moved the incident from a sleepy Saturday night crime story, into a major incident.

The incident’s seriousness led Mayor Greg Ballard and Public Safety Director Straub to appear live on Sunday morning TV newscasts. Both appeared live on Indy’s Black radio stations at Expo that afternoon.

Mayor Ballard, who was invisible when the Brandon Johnson crisis broke, was Johnny on the spot here. It was Black Expo that was invisible, appearing only at a Sunday afternoon press conference where Expo CEO Tanya Bell was bombarded with questions about Expo’s culpability and responsibility.

Again, Expo isn’t responsible for the shooting or even the societal conditions that would lead someone to such a depraved act.

But, there is lots Expo must answer to and change in the organization’s most dysfunctional and controversial year.

First, they must end revolving their entire marketing scheme around pre-teens and teens. The 2009 Census estimates show that one-sixth of our quarter million African-American community are youth aged 10 to 19.

Estimates of the crowd downtown at the time of shooting were 2,000 to 4,000. Meaning just 10 percent of Black youth were present.

But while teens and pre-teens comprise a sixth of our Black community, Black adults 25 to 44 are 28.1 percent while Black adults 45 to 64 are 21.4 percent – key audiences Expo constantly ignores and/or alienates.

But don’t take my word. Here’s what some plain folks wrote me about Expo’s shortcomings in e-mails sent to our WTLC-AM (1310) “Afternoons with Amos” program.

It’s obvious in this struggling economy that Black Expo must make its pricing structure more attractive and economical for parents and exhibitors.

Darryl, an exhibitor, wrote, “Next year, I might not return. Booth space is extremely high (plus) utilities can run anywhere from $200 to $4,000. I know a lot of vendors will not return because the return on investment is not there.”

Donna said, “The $15 entrance was entirely too high. I am sure that had a lot to do with people not attending the Expo.”

Tara, a mom of three, remarked, “There are five people in my family. We paid $15 for everyone ($60), except for (our) 5-year-old. Next year we would have to pay $75. We will not attend if the pricing is the same next year. They have priced the family unit out.”

Expo was very family-unfriendly. Expo’s Kids Zone was placed off the beaten track and had unappetizing features and attractions.

The much maligned Teen Bling has come to represent Expo’s slavish devotion to the youth market. If IBE was family friendly, parents would get in free with their teens and pre-teens and be able to relax in a “parents’ zone” to chill out, talk with other parents while their kids enjoyed the event.

One final word on Expo. The big question last week was how would the Corporate Luncheon crowd respond when Mayor Greg Ballard received his award?

Indiana Black Expo’s decision to give Mayor Ballard their most prestigious award rankled many in the African-American community. But Expo officials turned a deaf ear to community complaints.

When the mayor was introduced, a handful in the crowd of some 2,000 stood and applauded. Most others sat in their seats, hands in laps.

Indiana Pacer executive Quinn Buckner, who presented the award, had to plead with luncheon attendees, “Oh come on give it up for our mayor.”

The response? Deafeningly weak applause. No standing “O.”

That pretty much sums up community reaction to the 40th Expo.

Our community’s livid that Black violence ruined the week. But insensitivity, boneheaded strategies and a priority of money over people is causing the standing of Indiana Black Expo, within the community that birthed and nurtured it, to be seriously, seriously damaged.

Indiana Black Expo survived the Natalie Cole fiscal crisis and went on to thrive. Can Expo survive this crisis to continue to serve our community? Or will Expo deteriorate into chaos?

See ‘ya next week!

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