Victor Hugo so eloquently stated, "All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come." Although I am sure he had no thoughts of the Memphis Black Expo at the time, there are no more appropriate words to describe this annual Memphis event that has become an anticipated tradition.
The Memphis Black Expo (MBX), the vision of Memphian Viara Boyd, is a celebration of culture, music/arts, business and food – all those things that uniquely represent black American culture, specifically black Memphis. In a city that has not always had the most positive self-image and happens to be 70 percent African American, events such as the MBX, intended to foster greater awareness, connectivity and positivity, serve as a catalyst for positive change. It is clearly about uplift and growth and who can be mad about that.
Boyd and her team accomplished all those things this past weekend, producing a synergy of events Friday through Sunday that generated a feel good vibe and shined a bright light on some of Memphis' and even the country's best!
Friday night marked the MBX Opening Reception at the Stax Museum, where former Motown recording artist and legend, Martha Reeves (formerly of Martha and the Vandellas) was presented the Legacy Award in Soulful Music. Three hundred attendees filled Stax to enjoy tours, networking, elegant foods, delightful drinks and libations. Studio A of the museum was the centerpiece of entertainment and presentations for the night, featuring spoken word poetry, music and ultimately the presentation to Reeves. She delighted the crowd with an hour-long question and answer session where she sang, danced and gave unique insight into her life and successful career as a performing artist on one of America's most famous recording labels.
Saturday at the Agricenter International, nearly 5,000 people packed the house throughout the day, beginning at 10:30 a.m. for the MBX Expo event. The morning started with the Spirit, Soul and Body Gospel Fest presented by Dr. Phillip Bowden on the MBX main stage. Twenty choirs from around the region performed melodic and inspiring songs to the delight of a full audience that came to listen, encourage and be encouraged.
All attendees would also get an opportunity to engage, learn about and spend money with the over 120 vendors representing locally owned businesses from various industry including clothing vendors, political candidates, insurance agents, a gourmet popcorn store, nail salons and barbershops among a great variety. The MBX presents a dynamic opportunity for vendors, mostly small and locally owned businesses, to market and sell their services and products in a unique forum at a very economic price with positive residual impact down the line. Seminars were also offered on everything from marketing and PR to fashion and fitness, and legal issues.
The day also included appearances by several celebrity guests. The featured guest was scheduled to be Omari Hardwick of "Being Mary Jane" fame, however due to last minute scheduling and travel complications, he was not able to be there. In the face of a dilemma and disappointment to adoring and expecting fans and attendees, Boyd and her team went to work and were able to secure in Hardwick's place, "Jumping the Broom" actor Lazaro "Laz" Alonso. Fans responded with delight to his appearance and showed little signs of disappointment. MBX producers even surprised Alonso with a birthday cake as he was celebrating his birthday on Saturday. Other celebrity guests included Memphis' own rap legend MJG, "America's Next Top Model" contestant, Dominique Reighard, and Judge Joe Brown. The MBX celebrity lounge was definitely on and popping!
Overall the day was simply phenomenal. Other activities included a Corvette car show, Hot Wing festival, Kidventions student invention competition, African American International Mobile Museum, A Hotel to Stars Mobile Museum, Kids Beauty Pageant, Dance and Step Competitions and an Ask the Doctor segment focusing on health. It was truly a power packed, action filled day.
Sunday marked the last day of MBX Weekend, where event organizers held the Art of Fashion Visual Art and Fashion Show at the Pink Palace Museum. It was a fitting close out to a phenomenal weekend with a standing room only crowd enjoying some of the best local visual artist and fashion designer displaying their talent.
Boyd was exuberant in her reflections about this year's expo.
"Best year yet! Despite a few hiccups here and there we were able to deliver on our goal to provide a dynamic and impactful event for the community. As we often say, they all see the glory but few know the story. A lot of hard work went into putting on the event but the turnout, the smiling faces, the excitement of our vendors and their success at the event was all worth it. We have already begun the work to make next year's event even bigger and better."
MBX is produced by V-Rock Productions. The 2014 sponsors were: (Presenting Sponsor) Brinson Tax Service, Xfinity, The New Tri-State Defender, Convolution, WMC-TV 5, Creative Solutions, Subroy Dance Studios, Dr. Bowden Mid-South Gastroenterology Group, Control Alt Designs, and LilyRoze Studios.