Something for everyone Indiana Black Expo has a rich and proud history of serving as a tool of knowledge and empowerment for the city's African-American community as well as an outreach tool for others.

Founded in Indianapolis in 1970 by a group of community leaders, the first Indiana Black Expo was held at the State Fairgrounds in the summer of 1971.

Its historic forerunners were similar expos hosted by Operation PUSH in Chicago and other cities. Within a few years, IBE had outgrown the Fairgrounds and began holding its Summer Celebration at the Indianapolis Convention Center and Hoosier Dome. What started as a small event hosted by a small organization has grown into a massive event hosted by a group with 13 chapters across the state.

Indiana Black Expo's most public face is the Summer Celebration, but IBE does year-round work in advancing community issues. Events at the Summer Celebration include health fairs, workshops, one of the nation's largest exhibition halls of Afrocentric vendors, as well as religious events. What was once a small event at the Fairgrounds has become the nation's largest and longest-running event of its kind.

Following are some of the highlights of this year's Expo. For more on IBE's history, and a complete listing of this year's events, check out or call 925-2702.

UniverSoul Circus: The U.S.'s only African-American owned and operated circus will perform its big-top hip-hop throughout the Black Expo festival. This urban-based performance group features an international troupe of talent, from musicians to acrobats to clowns to animal tamers. Daredevils all, and new this year is the Platinum Soul Band, a seven-member live band, comprised of musicians from around the world. Now in its ninth season of performances, UniverSoul Circus began in Atlanta, Ga., founded by Cal Dupree and Cedric Walker. Since then, UniverSoul Circus has performed before over 4 million people. Walker says the circus is staged at "high-energy, hip-hop speed ... our technology is second to none." Walker continues, "We want to express the many cultural facets of people of color. We want more of an impact than just having black people performing circus feats ... that in itself is great. Instead, we strive to actually make a difference by honoring and paying tribute to black entertainment from slavery to now." UniverSoul Circus will perform at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Wednesday through Sunday; tickets range from $14 to $40. To order tickets call Ticketmaster at 239-5151. -Jim Poyser

Nikki Giovann: Poet and essayist Nikki Giovanni emerged at the forefront of the Black Arts Movement in the late 1960s, along with fellow black power poets like Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks and Sonia Sanchez. Today, Giovanni remains one of America's most important, energetic poets and educators. Her first two collections of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968) and Black Judgment (1969), examined race relations and economic realities in black America, as well as the immense power of the arts to promote cultural identity and pride. More than three decades and numerous accolades later, Giovanni still writes and lectures extensively, and returns to Indiana to perform her work in the Black Expo"s Cultural Pavilion on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. in rooms 120-121. Nikki Giovanni is known internationally as an engaging and powerful speaker; her razor-sharp wit and inimitable style are certain to make her readings a highlight of the Expo's cultural offerings. -Summer Wood

HBO Comedy Special: D.L. Hughley, Bruce Bruce and Rickey Smiley will be appearing at the Murat Theatre on Saturday for the taping of an HBO Comedy Special. Fans will recognize Hughley from his two previous HBO Comedy Specials and his eponymous UPN sitcom. Hughley was the original host of BET's Comic View, which was later hosted by Smiley and is currently in the hands of Bruce. He starred in the movie Kings of Comedy. Smiley, a veteran of Showtime at the Apollo and HBO's Def Comedy Jam, is a down-home Southern comic who knows how to keep it real, and keep it clean. He is currently starring in the BET sketch comedy show The Way We Do It. Bruce, an Atlanta native, is a take-charge comic known for his spontaneous snaps and sharp improve. Shows start at 8 and 11 p.m. and tickets are $35.99. For more information call 231-0000. -Steve Carr

Opening Night at the Cultural Pavilion: It's hard - no, make that impossible - to imagine American culture without its African-American parts. Can anyone conceive of American music without Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Mahalia Jackson, Robert Johnson, Miles Davis or Prince? Would anyone in their right mind want to? And that's just one artform. We could just as easily be talking about dance, the literary or visual arts. The Cultural Pavilion at Black Expo provides a special platform for cultural celebration - which includes, I'm happy to say, baseball. Located in the Maryland Street corridor and in Rooms 120-124 of the Wabash Ballroom in the Indiana Convention Center, Black Expo"s Cultural Pavilion will be the place to find a feast of cultural fare. There will be performances by local, regional and national poets; fine art exhibits from the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Indianapolis Art Center, Indiana Historical Society, Crispus Attucks Museum, Urban Arts Consortium and the 9 11 Visual Arts Project. Ethnic music and dance from the African Diaspora will be presented, and there will also be programs by the Eiteljorg Museum and Freetown Village. The Negro Baseball League Museum will provide an exhibit and there will be opportunities to meet former members of the Indianapolis Clowns, this city's storied Negro League team. The Cultural Pavilion will throw a free opening reception on Thursday night, July 18 from 6-8 p.m. -David Hoppe

Gospel riches: Indianapolis Eastern Star Church has a gospel choir that can truly take you to a higher place. It hardly matters what or how you choose to believe - or if those words even apply. Eastern Star is capable of making music that goes straight to the heart, the gut, that place that makes you want to jump to your feet and experience praise. Sunday, July 21, Black Expo begins a day of gospel celebration with "A Celebration of Praise Church Service" hosted by the Eastern Star Church at the RCA Dome. Doors open at 8 a.m. and the service goes from 9 until 11:30 a.m. Enter the Dome through Gate 1. Eastern Star's Church Service might be thought of as a fitting prelude to the Gospel Music Explosion, a title that pretty accurately describes the effect most listeners can count on if they show up at the RCA Dome's East End at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. For the next four hours, you can count on all gospel, all the time. Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child will perform. So will Lamar Campbell and the Spirits of Praise, the Righteous Riders, Angela Spivey and the Indiana Gospel Youth Camp Choir under the direction of Rodney Bryant. More performers are likely to arrive and lend their voices to this exultant blast as the evening accelerates. -David Hoppe

Music Heritage Festival II: Entire books, libraries even, could be written to describe the sweet-yet-edgy voice of Mary Jane Blige, whose self-anointed title as "The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul" has been validated by millions of album sales and epic live shows over the past 10 years. Mary is so popular with so many people because, like Aretha Franklin before her, she expresses the deepest fears, anxieties and realities about interpersonal relationships. After a turbulent past that included bouts with drugs and intense personal pressures, Blige re-emerged last year with her triumphant album, No More Drama. Its title track encapsulates all that is Mary J. Blige: real, honest emotion, sung with heart, soul and an expressiveness in vocal range unparalleled among contemporary R&B singers. To see Mary J. in concert is more than a show; it's an exercise in emotional catharsis. With Al Green at the Conseco Fieldhouse. For tickets, call 239-5151. -Steve Hammer


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