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Black Women’s Expo celebrates milestone 25 years

In 1994, Merry Green launched "An Expo for Today's Black Woman," which is now the Black Women's Expo. | Provided photo

In 1994, when Merry Green launched “An Expo for Today’s Black Woman,” she could not have foreseen it would become the longest-running expo of its kind some 25 years later, annually drawing more than 30,000 visitors to McCormick Place.

The experiential expo celebrates the milestone anniversary this weekend, April 12-14, with BET Network’s new African American women-focused cable channel, BET Her, as title sponsor.

“In all of my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined this 25-year journey! What the Black Women’s Expo has become, what it means to Black women, to our community, at times even amazes me! To be able to continue for so long is a blessing!” says Green, who kicks off the expo Thursday with the annual Phenomenal Women Awards, this year honoring 25 women who have made their mark.

Eric Benet | Provided photo

Over the years, the expo has featured a host of national speakers and experts on topics from entrepreneurship and finance to career advancement and health and wellness. It annually draws politicians, influencers and businesses seeking exposure before its powerful consumer market, and it offers seminars, conversations with celebrities and top artist performances free with admission tickets.

This year features entertainment headliners Eric Benét, Leela James, Glenn Jones and J. Brown; a conversation with best-selling author and Hollywood producer DeVon Franklin,  whose new movie “Breakthrough,” starring Chrissy Metz of TV’s “This Is Us,” hits theaters this weekend; and a Youth Town Hall focused on the alarming rise in human trafficking numbers within Cook County.

“It’s an honor to be invited,” said singer-songwriter Benét. “Black women have always been the backbone and spirit of our culture.”

Some 500 school students are expected to participate in the Friday Town Hall, hearing from such groups as the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), the Salvation Army’s STOP-IT Initiative Against Human Trafficking and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, who say people of color make up 60% of victims, with ages dropping to as young as 12.

Other issues dotting a chaotic political and social landscape will be tackled over the course of the three days. The family-focused event draws attendees from 14 states for its seminars, workshops and forums, and more than 500 small business/corporate vendors.

Devon Franklin | Provided photo

“BET Her was created to celebrate all Black women, so it is a natural partnership for us to be the title sponsor for this year’s event,” said Jeanine Liburd, BET Networks chief marketing and communications officer.  Long-time sponsors include Walgreens, United Airlines, Luster Products and BMO Harris Bank.

On Thursday, a who’s who of 25 accomplished women will be honored at the “First Look” Gala at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, for exemplifying excellence in their fields and paving the way for the next generation. They range from Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kristal Rivers to U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), Candice Payne, who entered the national spotlight when she rented hotel rooms for the homeless, and Wynter Jackson, director of management and labor affairs for the Chicago Police Department.

“It gave me a new purpose,” Candice Payne said of the experience of housing 122 homeless at a hotel for five days during the polar vortex. Her two-year-old nonprofit, Action For A Cause Now, now seeks to build multi-unit housing for the homeless, and night shelters using shipping containers. | Provided photo

“Each honoree is bold, intelligent, strong, yet beautifully humble, and that in itself embodies the spirit of the Expo,” said Green. “The gala not only serves as a celebration of these women, but of all Black women constantly making history, big or small, every day.”

Lori Lightfoot, who recently made history as Chicago’s first black woman mayor, had been a 2017 Phenomenal Woman Award winner.

More information can be found at www.theblackwomensexpo.com.