Minneapolis’ first Black History Month Expo fizzles, city will regroup for next year

The inaugural City of Minneapolis’ Black History Month Expo was held at the city convention center last Saturday.

Officially billed as the “I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams Expo” the event’s early grand ambitions fell victim to the calendar and city bureaucracy. MPR News reporter Feven Gerezgiher tweeted a picture of a sparse crowd at one session of the day-long event:

The Minneapolis Star Tribune covered the event, reporting that, “Scores of people flocked to the Minneapolis convention center Saturday.” The 20,000 expected attendance figure came from early in the event’s planning, when the event had a budget in the millions of dollars. The relatively sparse crowd did enjoy free admission to the event.

First, some background. The event was organized by the city’s Department of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. In the city’s org chart, the Department sits at the same level as the Fire and Police departments.

It was created in March 2022, elevating a group of programs previously housed within the City Coordinator’s office. The Department’s executive director, Tyeastia Green, previously held the same position at the city of Burlington, VT. She is originally from Minneapolis, having worked previously for the city of Bloomington and holding a degree from the University of Minnesota.

The Expo was meant to be the Department’s signature event, held in conjunction with Black History Month. To that end, Green lined up millions in financial commitments from major foundations and corporations, including a multi-year pledge from the Bush Foundation.

However, Green learned too late that her soliciting donations from private entities ran afoul of City rules. Without access to the private funds, the event had to make do with $450,000 in city money, which included a last-minute infusion of $140,000 from city contingency funds. Green had planned on using the larger, original budget to underwrite national names to appear and perform at the event.

Most of the final budget went to pay for an out-of-state event organizer, after a request for proposals failed to attract any local bids.

The scaled-back event went ahead with black-owned business vendors, live music, guest speakers and panel discussions. Unfortunately, the event occurred at the end of a week of exceptionally bad weather in the city. While in Vermont, Green had successfully organized a Juneteenth celebration in Burlington, much more accommodating to a northern state’s climate than a late February event.

Nonetheless, Minneapolis is optimistic about next year’s event, hoping that the private funding hurdles can be worked out.