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Black Women’s Expo returning in April, ‘bigger than ever’

Merry Green (pictured 2002) started event now called Black Women's Expo '90s. After year off expo returns Chicago from April

Merry Green (pictured in 2002) started the event now called the Black Women's Expo in the '90s. After a year off, the expo returns to Chicago from April 5 to 7 at McCormick Place.

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Updated: March 8, 2013 7:43AM

The year it was founded, Carol Moseley-Braun had just become the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate, and Terry McMillan’s “Waiting to Exhale” was the rage, a rare book by a black woman on the New York Times best-seller list.

Braun and McMillan were among the stars at the 1993 V103 Expo for Today’s Black Woman, an inspiration/entertainment event that quickly became a must-attend for Chicago’s black community and businesses marketing to blacks.

Drawing up to 20,000 attendees at its peak in 2006, subsequent blips — a reformatting, a falling out and dwindling corporate dollars for diversity marketing — had left what’s now known as the Black Women’s Expo foundering.

But two decades later, the expo is getting a new lease on life.

Detroit-based Real Times Media — owner of the Chicago Defender and five other black newspapers nationwide, as well as its “Who’s Who” diversity publications in 25 cities — has become an investment partner, expo officials announced this week.

The company aims to turn the primarily local event into a Midwest tourism destination event.

This year also marks the return to the event of V103 owner Clear Channel Radio.

Merry Green was a promotions and marketing director at V103 when she started the event. She left the station in 1995 and began producing it as an independent contractor.

“African-American expositions aren’t an easy prospect. We’ve struggled,” Green said.

After Clear Channel bought V103, it chose a gospel theme for the expo in 2007. That flopped; Green and the station parted ways, and the expo returned to its original format.

By 2011, sponsorship dollars had dropped off, annual attendance hovered at just over 10,000 and the big names in pop culture and politics who once appeared weren’t there.

Green regrouped. Hard work and negotiations followed. And after skipping last year, the expo returns to McCormick Place this year from April 5 to 7.

“We expect it to be bigger than it’s ever been, and with Clear Channel back on board, we expect to have the A-list artists back as well,” Green said.

Real Times Media’s CEO Hiram Jackson agrees. “There’s no reason this can’t be comparable to the Essence Jazz Festival,” Jackson said. “We’re in this for the next 20 years, and we’re going to make sure that in July, people can go to New Orleans, but in the spring, they have to come to Chicago.”

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