Black Expo changes to come after Summer Celebration

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Leaders of Indiana Black Expo Inc. will wait until after its annual Summer Celebration to announce any measures they might undertake to improve relations between employees and the organization’s CEO.

Black Expo’s signature event, which began on Thursday and runs through July 17, is the largest and longest-running event of its kind in the nation. It encompasses a huge variety of events, from free concerts to business seminars, which typically help push total attendance over 225,000.

But, in early June, Black Expo directors brought in an outside consultant following a letter to them in which employees voiced concerns about the leadership of president and CEO Tanya Bell, who has been at the helm of the organization since early 2008. The letter said “some staff members” witnessed Bell “changing figures in various financial documents.”

Seventeen employees out of a staff of about 20 signed the letter, complaining that Bell has created a hostile work environment that includes employees “being disrespected, disregarded and demeaned.” They called Bell “the perfect example of a bully” who “intimidates several staff members with overly aggressive, rude remarks.”

Reached by phone this week, Black Expo Board President John Thompson said the consultant is still performing due diligence, but he declined to elaborate.

“We’re going to get through Summer Celebration and, sometime during August, we’ll certainly be prepared to present … the community with an update,” he said. “Right now our focus is 100 percent on Summer Celebration.”

Even so, Thompson said he doesn’t expect “major changes.”

As president of Black Expo, Bell oversees Summer Celebration and Circle City Classic, which together generate roughly $40 million in spending for Indianapolis.

Employees who signed the letter to the directors include Perry Hines, chief operating officer; Colleen Heeter, vice president of development and advancement; and Elizabeth Hart, director of communications and public relations.

The letter said Bell “repeatedly changes her mind on various projects for which staff has invested considerable time and effort.” Staff members expressed “deep concern" about this year’s Summer Celebration. Last year's event saw a significant drop in attendance, the letter said.

The prepared statement issued by the staff said, “We collectively voiced our concerns to the board of directors, and an outside consultant has been brought to the table to assess the situation and provide assistance with employee relations. A process has been started and an action plan is being established to move forward.”

Bell has not responded to phone messages seeking comment about the situation. Questions were directed to Vernon Williams, a Black Expo board member handling media inquiries.

Despite the upheaval, he said the staff is “functioning on a highly professional level.”

“Right now everyone is functioning as one,” he said. “There’s no division that is impacting anything that is happening right now.”

Bell succeeded Joyce Rogers, who left for a position at Ivy Tech Community College in 2007. Bell, who received her undergraduate degree from Indiana State University and her law degree from the Indiana University School of Law, had been assistant general counsel at Community Health Network before taking the IBE job.



  • nicely put
    why can' t we have all white fraternities as there are all black ones????or do we in America have one and I don' t know about it.??? I am cool with all black groups certainly but there needs to be equality here
  • nicely put
    Good to see an intelligent comment here and I for one am afraid to work downtown during this event but forced to do so by my employer or be fired. thank you
  • blind baggage
    Oh, I've BEEN there; DONE that; and MAYBE I'll see you there (even though I swore I'd never go back): But, once again, I'm reading claims and statements that have no basis in fact!!! I state what I state from experience and common sense. If you don't know for sure what it is you're talking about, simply ask the question... instead of flying into a stereotypical rage!!! For example, let ME ask... Just what is this "heritage" you claim to celebrate at IBE? Are you talking about the MLK "heritage"? Rosa Parks? Well, let's see if you can get your head around this: ALL Americans have some kind of a dream... they make peanut butter sandwiches on Wonder bread for their kids... and even though most youths CHOOSE to sit at the back of the bus, they have the right to sit anywhere there's an open seat!!! Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to raise up the African American community, AND to save the White community from their own ignorance and prejudice: Washington Carver taught ALL food growers about crop rotation!!! These aren't "Black" heroes... THEY'RE AMERICAN HEROES (and moreover, they're heroes that belong to the WORLD)!!! Their lessons have affected the lives of every single soul sleeping under the shelter of our flag, regardless of race or creed!!! But racist events like IBE would have you believe that there is some kind of racial claim to the truths they taught... by outlining the box and putting a color on it, the Black Expo erases MLK's dream, entirely... Can't you appreciate that? YOU, my friend (like it or not) are an AMERICAN... and these historical figures are part of the American heritage... rather than that of one group OVER another: To claim them as anything else is to DIVIDE the truth!!! But, maybe that's not the heritage to which you refer... maybe you refer to the heritage of the African continent... which, by default, must include Libya, Egypt... (a true grandfather of slavery, by-the-way): But, maybe not... maybe their skin isn't as Black as ours!!! So maybe you're celebrating the conqueror/warriors along the Ivory coast... who sold our forefathers into the hands of the White slave traders.(?) Surely, THEIR skin would be Black enough to celebrate beside us!!! (Seriously, you didn't think that there once herds of rich, White plantation owners in Mark Twain moustaches roaming the African plains with butterfly nets and branding irons!!!). I'll bet the simple truth is that you have no idea where your family's blood originated... or what kind of "heritage" stands behind you as an individual. Whether you choose to face it or not, your blood is as muddied as that of everyone else in the Great Melting Pot: In your past are heroes AND villians... sinners AND saints... and that, too, is the American Heritage. But still, you defend the box!!! There are those out there who benefit greatly by keeping us divided, for divided we fall, and divided we fail to stand together when faced with the larger evils of our time... like election fraud and preemptory strikes: And there are some who BELIEVE they benefit by setting themselves apart from other Americans, based on nothing but the color of their skin... but these poor fools are merely TOOLS of the machine that rolls onward, unchallenged, because there isn't enough consensus to stop it in its tracks: They overpower us, simply by dividing us!!! And so I'll ask you again... Are we to be Equal or not? Are we going to move forward into the future together as one nation, or are we going to keep resurrecting these walls for future generations? Forgetting you and me for a minute, really... what of our children? Are THEY to be equal, or not? I ask you to be my brother and my neighbor and my equal... but you seem to keep answering "look how much different I am". If this were a 10-day European Caucasion Expo, you know as well as I do what the streets would look like downtown: It would never be tolerated, and rightly so, because the racist mentality is a dinosaur without a future, and is has absolutely no justifiable place in our time!!! Once again addressing the issue of Germanfest: I've been to one of those, too... and although I seemed to be eagerly welcomed, just as I was when stationed in Germany with the Army... still, I have no desire to return there, either. But, you're not "celebrating" on this kind of level, are you? Because this isn't a Nigerian Fest we're discussing here: We're not debating the validity of of an Ethiopian Expo, are we? No, we are not: We are talking about a celebration which openly focusues on nothing more significant than skin color. Still, if it bothers you that immigrants want to have parties in the names of their homelands, then protest it... but before you go, you'll have to come-up with another banner to fly, because the color of skin is not an issue. If you want to eliminate it because it offends you, then eliminate it... I don't care: I don't care about any of these Nationalist festivals (I'm an American: I was born here, pland to die here, and I've buried each and every one of my dead, right here). But I'd welcome the disappearance of the Greek Expo, if it also meant the disappearance of IBE and the Circle City Classic!!! So, let me repeat for you again. that none of these events you've used for comparison (including the Indy 500) are based on racial parameters. Finally, if you and the racist machine you wish to fuel can't get a grip on just what our "heritage" TRULY is, then this issue will never be put to rest, and we'll just keep passing these tired old "feelings-of-color" along for the next generation and the next one after that. You're only true identity now is that of an American, and if you can't come to terms with that, then you're stuck in a fantasy world and you truly have my pity!!! Hopefully your children won't feel the need to embrace a false identity such as you have... or worse, adopt a gangster's identity, merely because you've deprived them of the identity that is TRULY their birthright: The identity for which I volunteered my military service! Instead, the machine would have you foster the MAKE-BELIEVE identity which the IBE sets out in front of you like a comic book on schedule... The same isolating identity upon which the IBE has laid its foundation, so that we will remain forever DIVIDED. Please understand that I realize you and I will never solve the problems of racism alone... but alone, we CAN each make the choice to stop spreading the disease... regardless of how seemingly innocent we try to convince ourselves that it is!!! Besides, creating a false identity has never been the cure for feeling "lost" or like a man without a country... and this feeling strikes far deeper than the skin can contain, effecting every one of us from time-to-time... regardless of our "heritage". While the false sense of identity may temporarily feel soothing for a few days, it only serves to aggravate the deeper wounds of Division... and those wounds remain raw, long after the carnival has gone. I'm gonna' have to let these be my last words to you, and I'm not gonna' return to this page anymore to see the next installment of intolerance you'll be spewing from the side of your neck, because I have better thngs to do: SO, Good Luck to you and yours and mine and ours... and hopefully someday our children can meet with the laurels of friendship, rather than the lines of Division and the old idiocracy of "difference" you're leaving as their legacy... because, believe me, if you want them to feel "different" from me, then they certainly will.
  • Blind
    Just because the title of the event says "Black Expo" doesn't mean that no other race is invited. Again, you show your narrow minded thoughts. If you're afraid to be around people because of their color then you're the problem with our society. I don't care if you are multi-racial, if you're afraid to go to the "Black Expo" because you see the word "Black" then you're a fool. I challenge you to come to Black Expo and experience the events. Experience the business networking fair, the dinners and the cultural events. Please don’t write off the entire event from the actions of a few individuals. The youth of the city during the summer has always been an issue with the city. The police have all types of problems with fake ID and underage drinking in Broadripple. Young people hanging in the streets at night will always cause problems. You issues with the rowdiness at Expo: When you add alcohol + large crowds = arrest. People are arrested every day, all over the city, every weekend for disorderly conduct because of alcohol. This issue won’t become more extreme because the event is called “Black Expo”.
    The shooting last year was from 1 PERSON. The issues at the Expo are not caused by EVERY SINGLE AFRICAN AMERICAN who attends the event. I would never call every white person a raciest drunk because a group of white men called me a name at the track. That one incident didn't stop me from going to the race every year.
    All i'm trying to say is that every race, religion and creed should be able to celebrate their heritage without scrutiny from the media and the public.
    John, I know you'll never understand my view but to me it looks like you and a small group of individuals will always be irritated when a group other than who you approve assembles. I bet you had an issue about the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity event held last week? But alas, I accept your option and wish you good luck.
    Apples to oranges is correct: PI's, DUI'S, etc, hardly compare to lunatics opening fire on crowds, as happened last year. Furthermore, to even remotely suggest that white crime is "swept-under the carpet" is nothing more than racist propoganda. I suggest you actually watch a newscast, before commenting on them, because clearly you're out of your depth and failing to face the truth. As to my "narrow-mindedness", let me reveal that I am the product of a multi-racial family... so it's not my understanding that is lacking... just my tolerance for double-talk and stupidity. Either we want to be equals or we do not... So which is it to be? And in spite of your ridiculous comparisons, Germanfest, and similar events are all celebrations of SHARING National culture and cuisine with anyhone who'll spend a dollar... but NONE of them require a similar drain to the tax base for the increased police presence... and none of them are based on skin color. So, I'll say it once again... and I'll shout it aloud if necessary: INDY BLACK EXPO IS A RACIST FARCE AND A DIVIDER OF MEN!!!
    • Apples to Oranges
      I figured that would be the request from some people. Once Downtown was totally renovated and upgraded... the call would be for "no minority events" allowed. Like I in my previous comment. The crimes at the track and other events other than expo and classic are not reported. The PI's, DUI's, Fights and assaults are brushed off by the media and the community.

      I just hope people focus on all the positive things that happen at Expo and don't let 1 incident affect the whole event.
    • Apples and Oranges
      There are incidents at all events, however, IBE shows they are many times greater than at the other events and venues you cite. Someone being shot at the 500 would be front page news while the "Star" so far this year has had very little comment on IBE.

      It's time that the event be moved elsewhere as the disruption to downtown and to downtown businesses is too great I avoid the area during the event and not because its Black, but because of a past criminal history.
      • John
        John, what you fail to understand is that crime comes with all facets of life. There are robberies, rapes and fights at events where the demographics are majority white middle class citizens. these events are the Indy 500, Brick yard and in the beloved Broadripple area. The only difference is that the crimes at these events are not reported by the media. No one goes to the Indy Star and WRTV to talk about getting mugged at the Indy 500 or at the Brickyard. Like everyone said before, you're narrow minded. And celebrating my heritage isn't a crime. Should the city cancel Italian Fest on the Southside of town? Should the community cancel German Fest??? Answer that for me John? I bet you didn’t think about those events dividing the community.
        • WELL SAID
        • See What I mean?
          Indy Black Expo... even as a subject of discussion... divides us, even now!!!
          • God Bless America
            John: It's narrow minded people like you that keep this great nation divided. We are all the same in the eyes of God. Life is too short to be so bitter. Go out and do something kind for a stranger today, volunteer in in your community or just look to the heavens and thank God for this beautiful day.
          • Look who's talking smack
            My point is that this IS the 21st Century!!! Don't you think it's about time to stop drawing all of these lines in the sand? Instead of focusing on the things that set us apart... I think we'd all be a little farther down the road if we thought about the things that make us similar!!! Isn't THAT what MLK was dreaming about??? Indy Black Expo is exactly what it's name implies it is... A DIVIDER OF MEN.
          • IBE
            IF you look at the events that are available in Indiana year round One could say that every day is White Expo in Indy. By the way don't forget (German Fest, Italian Fest, Greek Fest or the Latino Fest, just to name a few.
          • RACISM EXPO
            I'll feel much more comfortable when this event is EQUALLY offset by an Indy White Expo or Latino Festival. Sadly, this is not the case in Indy: Instead, we hear these "financial reports" of how much money the Black Expo and Circle City Classic generate... when anyone with even a smidgen of common sense knows that it simply isn't true. In fact, as this article clearly indicates, the leaders of these events are accused of fudging the numbers. What we DO get, though, are muggings like the one last night where three bicycle-riding youths forced a man at knifepoint to withdraw cash from his ATM. Last year, there were shootings, to highlight this racist extravaganza... and I predict more of the same for this year. I personally feel that events like this should be viewed and treated like any other racist event, which are typically met with protest, and legal ramifications.

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