It has been 10 years since the passing of former Indiana Black Expo, Inc. President Rev. Charles Williams. His memory is one that seems to grow fonder with every passing summer in the city of Indianapolis, especially during the third week of July.
Williams succumbed to a terminal battle with prostate cancer in July of 2004 surrounded by family and friends during the beginning of Summer Celebration. His sister, Kathryn (Kathy) Jordan reflects on the day as one of peaceful transition.
“The day he died we were sitting there listening to the ecumenical service on the radio and all he wanted to know was that (Summer Celebration) had started and was going. Once he heard it and everything seemed normal and right he said ‘You can turn it off now’ and soon after turning it off he died,” said Jordan.
Williams’ daughter Shakara Williams, who appeared in cancer awareness campaigns with her late father, was nine years old when he died. The Indiana University sophomore journalism student, remembers her dad fondly. “I used to say my dad was an angel. His purpose was served and that’s why he’s no longer here,” said Shakara.
She remembers him as her best friend with whom she’d bowl and watch scary movies with as well as someone who knew the meaning of serving mankind.
“He was definitely not perfect and had his flaws, but he would give his last. I’ve witnessed him give the shirt off his back to a stranger,” said Shakara.
His son, Charles Williams II, shared that although some people may have only known his father as a stern businessman, he had a great sense of humor as well as a softer, more sensitive side. He recalled seeing his father cry upon learning that young Charles wouldn’t be playing on his middle school basketball team due to poor grades.
When Rev. Williams passed, Charles was 18 years old. He saw his father’s death as a wake-up call.
“He put his blood, sweat, and tears into Expo,” said Charles. “He showed me so many different things in the business world, how to become a man, and mostly how to stick to your dreams and goals even when people are against you telling you that you can’t do it,” he said.
Charles has parlayed his father’s lessons into his career in management in New Mexico where he currently resides. He just received his master’s degree in business administration and spends his free time mentoring young children, something he’s done since his college basketball days. “I know I would never be able to fill his shoes because there was so much he did for Indianapolis,” said Charles.
Jordan, who served in various capacities within Indiana Black Expo, Inc., even being the first paid employee when the organization was predominately volunteer-based, remembers the great times she shared with her big brother. The two were eight years apart in age and Jordan says Williams was her protector, provider, and friend.
While in the military, he would send her currency from other countries. This sparked her interest in coin collecting. She also recalls his undying passion for IBE from his time as a volunteer through his tenure as president.
“He had a vision for building this thing up from the foundation that was already set,” said Jordan. “(Summer Celebration) went from a small grassroots thing out at the fairgrounds to becoming an international event.”
His success, in her opinion, came from being both innovative and inclusive. Well before “supplier diversity” became popular, Williams worked to introduce small minority businesses to major corporations.
“He was very big on family and trying to strengthen the Black community by using his contacts and his knowledge from working in Mayor William Hudnut’s office to bring a cross section of the community together to work together. Yes, it is called Black Expo but what happens there affects the whole community,” said Jordan.
Williams’ sister says his reach was compounded when he became a minister.
“When he became a minister, he said Expo was his pulpit. He was a social minister, he felt like he could do more through Expo as far as his ministry and what he felt his calling was, than he could with a church and a congregation. His congregation was much larger than a building,” said Jordan.
Today, the citywide congregation seems to be waning in its support for the pulpit that care, compassion, and hard work built. Charles admitted that when he reflects on the current state of Expo he is disappointed.
“I know the president position is a hard one to fill, especially when you have to fill the shoes that he left,” said Charles. “It’s going to take time. I don’t expect change overnight or even next year but I think if they had a better connection with the younger generation that would help.”
In addition to engaging youth, Charles feels that maintaining connections with the founding generation of Expo will be the key to future success.
“A lot of people think my father started Expo. He didn’t - he just helped take it to the next level,” said Charles. “Every organization and every nonprofit should keep those ties with the people that started it. If you don’t, eventually it will fade out… I just want to see it come back. I would love to see Indianapolis grow again, especially for minorities.”
Jordan shares those sentiments saying, “It has changed, but that’s what time does, it changes things. Charles was a very unique individual, a very unique leader…. as human beings we tend to want to compare people and you can’t really do that because people are different.
“It’s obvious that the attendance isn’t the way it used to be but I chalk it up to the growing pains of new leadership, not only the president but the board and the staff as well. Hopefully it will all come together and it will reach the level it was before.”
To share your memories of Rev. Charles Williams and Indiana Black Expo tweet us at @IndyRecorder using the hashtag #RevCharlesWilliams.