The Millennial Generation were just pre-teens when The Black Women's Expo (TBWE) kicked off in 1994. Janet Jackson was hot on the pop charts and Disney had just released "the Lion King" movie. The term "smart phone" had yet to be coined and texting was not the ubiquitous occurrence it is today.
Fast forward to 2013 and the Expo is still offering relevant content, not just to those who first turned out 19 years ago, but also to Millennials who will likely be attending with their daughters. Merry Green, owner of MGPG Events, Inc., and the creator of the Expo, talks to The Chicago Defender about the highlights of the 2013 event slated for April 5-7 at Chicago's McCormick Place and what we can expect this year.
The Chicago Defender: To what do you attribute the longevity of The Black Women's Expo (TBWE)?
Merry Green: TBWE is continuously evolving. We're always trying to look at our audience with fresh eyes and remember that to be successful we have to meet their needs. When we launched in 1994 there was nothing like the Expo in the country (The Expo predates the Essence Festival by one year). We pulled together exceptional resources and information that spoke to the needs of the women then and we're still doing that today.
TCD: What can this year's attendees expect?
Merry Green: One big focus for us this year is on health and wellness and we have some outstanding partnerships with University of Chicago Medicine and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). IDPH will be conducting health screenings from their mobile unit and University of Chicago Medicine will have both a nutritionist and trainer on site, as their focus is exercise & nutrition.
As a presenting sponsor for the second year, Walgreen's has created a Health and Wellness Pavilion that is certain to be a destination point on the Exhibition Floor. Walgreens will be debuting something new.... (The) Natural Hair Pavilion reflects the growing trend among women of color to go natural. Also exhibiting at the event will be a number of health-focused organizations, including the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the Alzheimer's Association and Gift of Hope (organ and tissue donation). The participation of these organizations is a clear recognition that African Americans face some challenging health issues, but that having the right information is our greatest weapon.
TCD: Who are some of the seminar presenters at this year's Expo?
Merry Green: We are also extremely excited about the line-up of national speakers and entertainers that will be showcased during our seminars and on the Main Stage. R&B diva, Faith Evans; the number one gospel artist, Tamla Mann and more artists are being confirmed daily. There will be conversations with celebrities, including Dr. Ian Smith with the Shred Challenge, Sherri Shepherd from ABC's "The View," author/activist Dick Gregory, and R&B & Soul artist and author, Keith Sweat. Our exhibit floor pavilions (will) have something for everyone as well. They include the Kidz Korner, Literary Café and Club Expo, an adult beverage-sampling pavilion.
TCD: How have sponsors responded to this year's BWE?
Merry Green: The Expo could not happen without our sponsors. We are extremely pleased to have State Farm continue as the title sponsor of the Expo. They've been with us since the beginning and continue to help make this a dynamic and relevant event. As discussed, the Health and Wellness Pavilion sponsored by Walgreens will be one of the most talked about during the Expo. Additionally, we have a number of corporate sponsors that will be displaying their products and services on the exhibit floor, including new this year, Chevrolet. These sponsors allow us to tap into the issues of today and bring our visitors information and products and services they can use.
TCD: Any surprises for this year's TBWE you'd like to share?
Merry Green: "Jeopardy" will be conducting "in-person" auditions for contestants on Saturday during the Expo thanks to our long-standing media partnership with ABC 7 Chicago. We're very pleased that "Jeopardy" sees the Expo as a great place to recruit more African-American contestants to this popular, long-running show. Certainly we have some other surprises that we'll be able to share very soon.
TCD: How are you reaching out to younger women, who were just teenagers when the Expo began?
Merry Green: We thought a lot about what it takes to bring back both those women who are 20 years older than when we began the Expo, and a new generation who may never have attended, and we know that content is key. Our seminars and workshops will be just as impactful this year as they were in the beginning, with topics covering entrepreneurship, parenting, relationships, nutrition and fitness. In addition, on Saturday we're hosting a Town Hall Meeting on Gun Violence. It's a challenging issue that is top of mind for everyone in our city and we're tackling it head on.
TCD: How does your new partnership with Real Times Media play into the event?
Merry Green: Real Times Media is an exciting partner for us and when you look closer it's a perfect match. They are a media platform with some of the strongest African American media brands in the country, including The Chicago Defender, The Pittsburgh Courier, The New Tri State Defender (Memphis), The Michigan Chronicle and The Atlanta Daily World. Yet they are also a digital media company with a strong multi-media platform. Just like the Expo they continue to expand their reach across multiple platforms.
TCD: How can we keep up with new developments with this year's Expo?
Merry Green: We've expanded our outreach using social media, so you can find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (use the hash tag #blackwomensexpo) and keep up with programming additions by visiting our website www.blackwomansexpo.com.
(Merry Green created the Expo for Today's Black Woman while working in radio at V103 and later took ownership of the event, today known as The Black Women's Expo. Green joined forces with Real Times Media in 2012 to make the event a Midwest destination.)