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Inextricable tie: 35 years of involvement with Indiana Black Expo, Inc.Inextricable tie: 35 years of involvement with Indiana Black Expo, Inc.

Vernon Williams

My involvement in Indiana Black Expo, Inc. (IBE), was accidental, not by design. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been involved in organizations all my life; the Gary Roosevelt Hi-Y, Club Black Action, Operation Breadbasket and Scouting before leaving Gary to enroll at Indiana University in Bloomington.

My inspiration for involvement in outreach came from the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Part of it was genetic, since my mother was active in civic, community and school organizations (President of the Gary Federation of Colored Women and the Garnett Elementary School PTA). So, it was always in my blood.

Connecting with a progressive group like IBE was natural – just not planned. As a matter of fact, it happened after I had covered events of the organization as a reporter with the Gary Post-Tribune. That’s where I met the man who led IBE for two decades, the Reverend Charles Williams.

IBE Full B 600

We bonded as brothers immediately. That was common for “Rev.” the charismatic leader who never met a stranger. His engaging mannerism lured folk of every ilk to the Indiana Black Expo; from world-famous entertainers, sports legends, corporate giants, iconic professionals, politicians and, most importantly, everyday ordinary people.

Eventually, I transitioned from the newspaper to teaching radio and television.

On a visit to one of the signature events of IBE, Charles introduced me to the newly formed IBE Youth Telecommunications Workshop. It was an impressive group of Indianapolis students given the opportunity to function as working media covering events and interviewing principals involved. They even had a cable TV program.

On a visit to Gary the next year, Charles came into the studio of my broadcasting students at the Gary Area Career Center and sat down for an hour interview. He was blown away by the students on three cameras, young technicians in the control room, the director managing floor shots and timing, and hosts of the program and interviewers.

He insisted that we immediately establish a Gary unit of the Telecommunications Workshop, bought distinctive warm-ups for participating students and put them on the media list to cover all the stars and organizers of both the Expo Summer Celebration and the annual fall Circle City Classic.

In Indianapolis, the Gary students were in the room for the legendary rant of rap icon Tupac Shakur, interviewed “Kid and Play” at the height of their stardom, held microphones out with reporters all over the nation in the locker room after an NBA All-Star game talking to Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

In Gary, the Telecommunications Workshop interviewed in studio famed entertainer Ben Vereen, Public Enemy rapper Flavor Flav, world-class gymnast Diana Durham and many others. Consecutive years, the Gary group co-hosted national broadcasts of the popular BET show, “Rap City” airing from the Gary Genesis Center.

Every student who participated in the Gary Youth Telecommunications Workshop went on to successful careers, family life and service to their community.

To organize the Youth Telecommunications Workshop, “Rev.” insisted that I had to become a member of the organization. So, this was my first association with the Gary chapter. Once I moved to the state capital, I became active in the Indianapolis Chapter of the IBE with State Representative Bill Crawford, transplanted Gary native Gelone Broadnax, my adopted sister Rona Nell Govan and others. I was president in Indy for a few years.

One of the most influential members of IBE was Johnny Florence of East Chicago. We became close friends, and one day he cornered me to ask if I would get involved with the IBE Board of Directors. I was honored. I served two six-year stints on the Board serving as Executive Vice Chair and Central Regional Director.

I left the Board after 12 years to serve as Vice President of Communications for two years, a springboard into my transition to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI); first to serve as Assistant to the Chancellor for Communications under Dr. Charles Bantz before my current position of IUPUI Communications and Community Engagement Strategist.

Board members with whom I served over the years became close friends for life. I still enjoy working with the Indianapolis Chapter when opportunities arise and respond whenever current IBE President Tanya Bell reaches out to me.

The ideals, mission, goals and purpose of the Expo are as viable today as in 1970 when the organization started. That is why I feel humbled and honored to be recognized for leadership during the upcoming 2021 IBE MDwise Black and White Ball Saturday, October 23, in Indianapolis. I thank God for the opportunity to serve!

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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