Indianapolis Black Expo head dispels myths By Ron Wynn
Thomas Griffin, head of the Indianapolis chapter of Black Expo, acknowledges that there are myths and problems involving the organization that pose problems he must address in his daily duties. A major one is the notion people think the office really only functions a couple of times during the year, when in reality he's constantly busy.
"People think Black Expo is a two event thing," Griffin recently said during an interview. "They only see the summer celebration and the Circle City Classic (a football game between two HBCU powers every fall). But the truth is there are 12 chapters of Black Expo throughout the state of Indiana, and they are all independent 501 (c) 3 organizations. It's not like we have one entity that runs them all, or that they all work in conjunction with each other. They are separate, they are in different cities, and they have different problems and situations that they face."
Griffin has been in his position for six years, but has been in Indiana for over 45 years. Longtime Indianapolis residents might remember him from his years as a polished media professional on radio station WTLC-AM (1977-2002). He has very strong opinions on many subjects, particularly radio and broadcasting, which he says has "gotten away since the era of media consolidation from being the community-oriented force that it once was." He also hopes to eventually get the Indianapolis chapter moving back in the direction that he feels once characterized Black Expo in general.
"There was a time when Black Expo really was doing a lot of networking and bringing businesses together through the event and also generally," Griffin remembered. "If you were a T-shirt manufacturer in Fort Wayne and another person was a letterer in Marion, Black Expo could bring them together and there you've got a business. I think in many instances today, we have a problem in getting business people in various parts of the state together, and some of that is due to the fact that all the chapters now run separately of each other."
"Plus, here in Indianapolis, we have both the city branch and the state office, so there's often some confusion there," Griffin added. "And to be frank, we also are still combating some of the old myths and stereotypes regarding businesses and Black people. That old cliche' about the white man's ice being colder and all, that is still out there. We even at times have trouble getting Black businesses to hire Black youth. So there are a lot of obstacles out there, but the good thing is that Black Expo at least has a brand and a reputation that dates back for many years."
Indeed, Black Expo actually evolved out of an event held in Chicago by Rev. Jesse Jackson's Operation Push in the late '60s. A gathering of Black businesses from not only across the nation but some from outside the country was so successful in Chicago that people from other places, including some from Indianapolis, returned home and decided to do a similar event in their city. Sadly, Indiana's Black Expo today is the only survivor of an event that once stretched from coast-to-coast. But at least it remains active statewide, with the Indianapolis branch located 300 E, Fall Creek Parkway, in the Julia Carson Bldg.
"We've got to return to basics," Griffin says when asked what he'd like to see happen with Black Expo in the future. "We've got to recognize that the chapters through unity can bring us strength as a people. There was a time when Black Expo really was part of a rallying cry through the nation for more Black businesses and community empowerment. That's still a very important thing today, but now we've lost some of that energy and some of that drive."
"What I want to see happen here and everywhere with Black Expo is really maximizing opportunities," Griffin concluded. "We've got to make people understand that we are here, let them know what we want to do, and get our name and brand out there more extensively across the state. Part of the reason why people still have those misconceptions is because we haven't done what we need to do in terms of publicity and exposure. That's something we need to change and also return to our original mission: improving the lives of Black people through economic empowerment, networking and action."