President George W. Bush's appearance last week at the RCA Dome for the Indiana Black Expo's Summer Celebration affirms a prominence decades in the making. He is the first president to ever attend Black Expo.
President Bush was at Black Expo July 14.
"[This] marks the arrival of Indiana Black Expo after 35 years of steady growth as one of the premier events in our country," said Gov. Mitch Daniels in his introduction. "Today and from now on, Black Expo is truly a national occasion."
"It really put a lot of focus and national attention on our Summer Celebration," said IBE communications director Alpha Garrett. "We had a lot of national media come in and it really put a spotlight on us. Those participants, sponsors and vendors that have been working with us for years are saying, 'Wow, this is really a national event.' A lot of our partners are national sponsors. It really spreads the word that Summer Celebration is a destination for our community across the nation, and it really puts the focus on our year-round events and family celebrations."
Black Expo president Joyce Rogers, when presenting Bush with the Lifetime Achievement Award, cited health care, money towards AIDS research and the Going Home Initiative as some of the reasons for giving the award.
Bush made education a key element of his speech, directing much of his attention to measuring standards, a key part of the No Child Left Behind act. He also made comments on Social Security reform, faith-based initiatives and his concept of an "ownership" society.
"When you own something, your life is more secure," Bush said.
It was Bush's comments regarding Rep. Julia Carson that got the most applause. "If you've never had a visit with Julia, she's got a lot of wisdom," Bush said. "Not afraid to speak her mind. She kinda reminds me of my mother."
Though he spoke to a capacity crowd, Bush's visit was not met warmly from all sides. A number of protestors rallied in different locations around the Dome.
One of those organizers was Cate Russo, board member of the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center and director of the Indiana Pledge of Resistance. "We're in the capital city of a red state, and when the president or the vice president visits Indianapolis, which isn't often, I think it's important to make the point to the Bush administration and the IPD that we aren't going away, and that we're going to protest as often as we can, as loudly as we can, that we're still here," Russo said. "We're still against the war, we're still enraged about torture. None of this has changed, none of these have gone away since he initiated them."
She also commented on what she felt was the bitter irony of Bush addressing and receiving an award from an African-American group.
"You look at how many young African-American men are in the service because they have no other options, and the number of them who have been killed in Iraq," Russo said. "If you look at it by race and by age, you'll see that the majority of them are minorities. If you look at the number of minorities who are in jail, the number who have been put to death, the number of folks who are caught up in drug addiction. The way we're losing our civil liberties is staggering."