The Summer Celebration schedule appears in our Diversity in Business Focus.
The title of Indiana Black Expo Inc.’s 2005 annual report couldn’t be more fitting: “Con
tinuing the Legacy.”
It’s an apt description for both the organization’s recent history and its goals for the future.
As Black Expo prepares to kick off its second Summer Celebration without its
longtime leader, Rev. Charles Williams, CEO Joyce Q. Rogers is abuzz with ideas to make the nation’s largest black heritage festival even better.
To live up to Williams’ legacy, Rogers believes she must be more than a caretaker.
“Rev. Williams said many times, ‘I want Indiana Black Expo to go to the next level,'”
Rogers said. “It took me a long time to understand what that means. Now that I understand what it means, I wish he were here to talk about it.”
He’s not-Williams died in July 2004 after
21 years at the helm of Black Expo-but Rogers isn’t totally alone, either. The not-for-profit’s executive staff is loaded
with veteran expo employees. And the 10-day Summer Celebration, which kicks off July 6, long ago took on a life of its own.
Summer Celebration is one of a handful of events that “maxes out every square inch” of the Indiana Convention Center and the RCA Dome, said Bob Schultz, spokesman for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. Associated events also use other downtown venues, including Conseco Fieldhouse and the American Legion Mall.
A formal economic impact study is due to be completed this year detailing hotel stays and other economic details, but ICVA has long recognized Summer Celebration as an event that introduces Indianapolis to thousands of out-of-town visitors, Schultz said.
“There’s no question it’s one of our most significant events,” he said.
This year, 350,000 people are expected to attend dozens of events during Summer Celebration.
Highlights, Rogers predicted, will include a keynote address by actor Sidney Poitier, an exhibit on the history of hip-hop, and a celebrity basketball game.
Indianapolis-based Man Alive clothing retailer will present the annual fashion show, a partnership Rogers hopes will show the potential for corporate sponsors.
Summer and beyond
While Summer Celebration continues to grow, Rogers, 49, spends much of her time figuring out how to achieve Williams’ goal of taking Black Expo to the elusive next level.
A big step in that goal is to increase awareness of how expo spends the money it raises through its most visible events-Summer Celebration and the Circle City Classic, a fall event built around a football game between two historically black colleges.
Money raised at those, along with grants
and donations from corporations, individuals and IBE members around the state, brought in $7.4 million in 2005.
That money went back out in the form of nearly two dozen programs and partnerships, ranging from local health fairs sponsored by the 14 expo chapters statewide, to the Youth Video Institute, a 61-student studio at expo’s headquarters that has been churning out radio/TV professionals and aspiring filmmakers since 1983.
Those programs, along with educational and health-based programs, aren’t as wellknown as the expo’s signature events-a disparity Rogers is trying to change.
In 2005, her first full year at the helm of the organization, expo garnered an estimated 140 million media “imprints”-a tally of how many times the public saw or heard Black Expo’s name in print, television, radio or on the Web. Attendance was up at Summer Celebration, and overall revenue increased 17.5 percent.
Admittedly, much of the media exposure last year was generated by President Bush’s speech at Summer Celebration’s corporate luncheon, and by sheer curiosity-the “What is that lady going to do?” factor, as Rogers put it.
Rogers, an attorney who oversaw contract administration for the state before joining expo in 2001 as chief operating officer, was named president and CEO in 2005 after serving as interim chief following Williams’ death from prostate cancer.
She had the benefit of an unusual, if unfortunate, set of circumstances during the transition, said Bryan Orander, a local not-for-profit consultant with Charitable Advisors LLC who advises organizations on succession planning.
When longtime not-for-profit leaders step down, especially charismatic leaders like Williams, the transition can be rough.
Donors with personal relationships to the leader may depart, there may be resistance to the new leader from staff and board members, and the new leader may find it difficult
to impart a new way of doing things.
At expo, Rogers had the benefit of having a leadership role before Williams became ill. When he did, there was time to make a gradual change to a hand-picked successor who already understood the organization, its mission and its supporters.
Rogers hit the ground running, said Carolene Mays, publisher of The Indianapolis Recorder, which partners with expo on the Youth Video Institute.
The organization is working to create more of those kinds of partnerships, Mays said, lending expo’s presence and fundraising abilities to causes carried out by other companies and organizations.
One of its most recent collaborations is the Andrew J. Brown Academy, a northeast-side charter school run by Michiganbased National Heritage Academies.
“Joyce is doing a tremendous job,” Mays said. “It’s always difficult when you take over a position from someone who’s so well-known. But [Williams] trusted Joyce, and that’s who he wanted to take over.”
That doesn’t mean Rogers is free of challenges, however. By her own admission, she sometimes has visions for expo that exceed the capacity of the organization.
Learning to balance the desire to do certain things-rent video screens for Summer Celebration’s free concert that can be seen during daylight hours, for instance-with the organization’s resources is a constant challenge, she said.
And while Rogers has been working to expand corporate support of expo’s programs, the organization also must remember its beginnings as a grass-roots festival founded in 1970, said Amos Brown, a local Radio One talk show host and contributor to The Indianapolis Recorder.
He said she must tread carefully in other areas, as well. Not everyone, for instance, appreciates the push to diversify Black Expo and Summer Celebration beyond the
black community, Brown said, calling the festival’s ethnicity its uniqueness.
And while Brown said he understood that last year’s presidential visit was a realization of a longtime expo goal to have a sitting president attend Summer Celebration, many in the black community saw it as reaching too far beyond the festival’s roots.
Because the black community treasures expo, Brown said, it will be watching with keen interest as Rogers continues to put her own stamp on the organization.
“Indiana Black Expo is an organization in transition,” he said. “I think everyone recognizes that Rev. Williams was irreplaceable. He was a combination of a promoter, visionary leader and motivator that comes along in any organization rarely. When you take all of those skill sets out of an organization, it’s going to be noticed.”