The Black Expo experience

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I remember getting TLC’s debut album on a cassette tape. Making my way through the crowded aisles of the Convention Center to the booth with the tapes (if you know, you know), I was elated to find the music I had been waiting for. I knew I was in the right place.

There was a time when the Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration was the one and only place to be in the summertime. Outfits were purchased far in advance, ironed and laid out the night before. Beauty and barber shop appointments were made. The hair had to be on point. Cars were washed and polished for cruising through the streets. The cars had to be clean when you rode through.

It was not a matter of whether you were going; it was a foregone conclusion. You simply could not miss the Expo, as it came to be known. People came from all over just to be in the building.

Expo was where I ran into every cousin and long-lost classmate. It was social media before social media, the place to catch up and find out how everyone was doing. Because everyone was going to be there.

Expo was also the place for Indiana’s best lineup of celebrity sightings. I saw Destiny’s Child walk right in front of me; I was so close I could have joined the group!

I remember graduating from going with my parents to finally reaching the milestone of being able to go with my friends. I have more Expo memories than I can share. As the people say, we had a time.

Expo grew and kept growing over the years. It was always more than just an event.

The hugs, high fives, waves and smiles meant community. The smells wafting through the air meant you were going to eat good food made with love. The cheers for the fresh-faced talent at Starquest meant you were seeing a glimpse of what was to come. The purpose of Expo was togetherness, a collective of people working alongside one another for a brighter future.

The festivities were wrapped up in a feeling of pride, celebration and joy. It was a space to know you belonged and you were welcomed. It felt like home.

In some ways, the Expo experience burst through the walls of the Convention Center and into every corner of the city.

I see the spirit of Expo everywhere. Throughout the year, the community comes together to celebrate Black culture at the Black Business Bazaar, Tha Block Party, Daptoberfest, Pardi Gras, Black Joy, Juneteenth, Butter, Onyx Fest, Kwanzaa and so much more. Whatever your tastes, there is an event for you.

The many offshoots only serve to highlight the necessity of the original. I enjoy all the new events, but there is no Melanin in May without Expo. The events are different, yet they are all born out of the need to be together. They help us hold on to what makes us unique. They help us tell our story. They connect us to our roots.

We are living out the vision of Expo every time we come together to support one another’s businesses, exchange ideas, appreciate art and do that impossible Tamia dance. (Am I the only one who still can’t get it?)

Expo birthed something in this city. The generations who were present to witness it at its highest height have carried that mission in their hearts and made way for new celebrations. There are now more welcoming spaces and places than there have ever been.

There’s no need to bemoan what could have been or what should be. Expo was and is still doing what it was meant to do. As poet Mari Evans wrote, it gave people a chance, “to explode/in the majesty of our oneness/our coming together/in a comingtogetherness.”

The anticipation of Summer Celebration is still in my heart. Every year when it is time for Expo, I feel a little gleeful, a little excited to see who will be there, and a little bit like I just have to go.

Contact Editor-in-Chief Camike Jones at 317-762-7850 or camikej@indyrecorder.com.