Thousands of people stepped into the Cook Convention Center this past Saturday to check out African-American vendors, celebrities, and entertainers at the fourth annual Memphis Black Expo.
"[The expo is] about promoting unity and encouraging the community to stick together," said Viara Boyd of V-Rock Productions, the event's producer. "The event was created so we can learn how to support each another, as well as [to show] the importance of family unity. It's extremely important for us to build one another up."
For the first time since the expo began, it featured a roster of celebrities, who were seated in a plush lounge area in East Hall of the convention center. Attendees got the chance to mingle with Lamman Rucker (star of Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns), Marcus Matthews (author of I Am Not the Father), Van Chew of BET's Comic View, and Olympic silver medalist Trell Kimmons.
"It's always a blessing to come back home and show support," Kimmons said. "I'm from Mississippi, but it's the surrounding areas that supported me throughout my career and made this great success that I've done over the past years [possible]. I call Memphis home, so it was an opportunity that I couldn't turn down."
Mayor A C Wharton kicked the event off with a welcoming speech. That was followed by musical performances from local churches during the Expo's Spirit, Soul & Body Gospel Festival.
The Sickle Cell Foundation of Tennessee CEO Trevor K. Thompson and Clarence Boyd Jr., the first African-American electronic instrumentation technician at Kimberly-Clark (now KTG), were honored during the event.
Those interested in starting their own business attended an entrepreneurial workshop. Other workshops focused on job recruitment and how to repair financial credit.
Black fraternities and sororities showed off their stepping skills during the Greek Stroll-Off. There was a Corvette show for car enthusiasts. And anyone with an appetite could fill their bellies with soul food prepared by the Soul-Lucions restaurant on Lamar Avenue.
Adults weren’t the only ones that benefited from the event. Memphis youth got a chance to show their talents at the "My Black is Beautiful Kids Natural Cutie Pageant" and the "Battle on the Bluff Dance & Step Jamboree." The event also had a designated “Kids Zone,” an entertainment area where children could have their faces painted, view puppet shows, interact with mascots from cartoons such as Dora the Explorer, bungee jump, play games and win prizes.
"Once I got involved in [the expo], I saw how it could positively affect our community," said Selma Brinson, CEO of Brinson Tax Service, which sponsored the event. "They're giving the little girls an opportunity to show how pretty they are in a natural realm. The fellas [are] able to show off their pretty Corvettes and everything. It's just an opportunity for local, talented people, beautiful children, and our community to show off how talented and pretty they are."