Chicago's Black Women's Expo goes virtual despite postponement due to COVID-19 outbreak

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Many events in the Chicago area are canceled or postponed during the coronavirus pandemic, including the 2020 Black Women's Expo.

It was planned to be held at McCormick Place this month, and organizers instead held a slate of virtual events Saturday.

A "quarantine workout" kicked off the show as this year's Black Women's Expo goes virtual.

"It's really important we keep them engaged, keep them excited about the show," said Merry Green, who founded Black Women's Expo.

Green decided to use the postponement of the expo to showcase and engage existing vendors, and the tens of thousands of black women who attend each year.

"We have about 300 small business exhibitors. Lots of black females and some males and many of them had spent their dollars for promotion and product and then the expo was gone, just three and a half weeks before the show started," Green said. "We were shut down."

In its 26th year, the event took to the internet and social media after its longtime home was converted to help in the fight against COVID-19.

The event, dubbed as BWE Next, not only features an in-depth weekend panel discussion, but also the usual lineup of sponsors, vendors and sessions that were already planned for April. There's also support and conversations about the unique hardships black women business owners are facing during the pandemic.

"All of these applications for loans and grants and things that are coming out are for people with 500 or less employees," Green said. "So many of our small businesses are even smaller than that. So this is hitting us very, very hard."

Since Merry Green launched an expo for today's black woman in 1994, it has become the largest and longest running exposition in the country for African American women.

Over the years, the expo has featured national speakers and experts on topics ranging from entrepreneurship and finance to career advancement and health and wellness.

Organizers said more panel discussion, cooking demos and workout sessions are planned during the weekend, as Green vows to keep her pledge that the expo remains a voice for black women.

"We have to come back and have some fun too," Green said. "We've got to keep going."

The Black Women's Expo has been rescheduled for the weekend of August 21 at Chicago's McCormick Place.
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