The Ohio Black Expo used to bring as many as 30,000 attendees out to downtown Columbus in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before it left the city for Dayton and Cincinnati and eventually went on hiatus.
Now, the event has been reborn and organizers are planning for an annual event in downtown Columbus, starting this year over Memorial Day weekend from May 26-29.
This year’s Ohio Black Expo is a chance to lift up Black-owned businesses, entrepreneurs, and celebrate Black culture in Ohio, according to Ohio Black Expo Executive Director Sherri Hamilton.
“We’re here to lead the Ohio Black Expo into the future, to bring it back in the grand fashion that it deserves,” Hamilton said.
Driving the event’s return is “the sheer need not only to help support Black owned businesses and organizations, but also to celebrate our culture,” she said.
“Bringing this back is not only for Central Ohio, but really for the entire state,” she said.
The original founder of the Ohio Black Expo, Rhonda Robinson, first approached Hamilton and her husband about bringing back the Ohio Black Expo years ago.
“She said, ‘You’re the ones who will help me bring it back,’” Hamilton said. “We started really discussing it. We did a SWOT analysis figuring out what happened before that worked well and what we wanted to avoid.
“Finally, we started putting things in place to get ready for 2020. We had everything ready to go – and then Covid hit.”
The team ended up putting on a virtual event in 2020 that attracted 500 people. It expanded in 2021 with more virtual programming, including a Black Business Expo.
This year, Hamilton is hoping for a total of 30,000 attendees at the first in-person version of the event in Columbus since 1991.
If that materializes, it could have a “multimillion-dollar economic impact,” she said.
“We plan to pick up where we left off,” Hamilton said. “We took a pretty close look at attendance at other cultural festivals. Those have had 20,000 to 30,000 people.”
Hamilton said if Robinson was able to successfully attract 30,000 attendees to the Ohio Black Expo three decades ago, it can happen again now.
“I’m in awe of what Rhonda was able to accomplish without the internet, with no email, with no social media, with no computer, no cell phone,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton is also heartened by the recent successful return of the Classic for Columbus, a festival centered on a rivalry game between Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
John Pace, CEO of the Classic for Columbus, said in a recent press conference that he was cheering on the Ohio Black Expo’s success.