Some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories span back to an era when The Circle City Classic — formerly one of the largest and most prestigious Historically Black College Football Festivals– was one of the premiere Black events in the entire country.
I remember the early morning trips downtown to watch the parade, usually joined by multiple out-of-state relatives who would make the journey here to take part in the festivities. The jam-packed and buzzing Pan-Am Plaza, full of life, music, vendors — it was like a small Black Village right in the heart of the downtown. The memories of occasionally going to the actual football game when it was held at the RCA Dome, before the event seemed to settle into a rotation of bringing in the same handful of schools every few years. The raucous halftime Battle of the Bands, that would have the packed stadium jamming along to the musical performances by the extremely talented students.
The Circle City Classic wasn’t just a football game — it was our showcase — a piece of Black Cultural Excellence that was built in the heart of a state that has never been known for embracing it. The whole week leading up to it was met with a special type of excitement and energy that would reach a climax on gameday, starting with the iconic parade through the downtown corridor.
Now, The Circle City Classic is dead. And we have the prime suspect in the murder.
Meet Tanya Bell, The President Of The Indiana Black Expo.
Now I personally do not know Tanya, I have never met her nor had any conversations with her one-on-one. I am sure that she very well may be a great person of outstanding character and knowledge on a variety of issues (despite multiple public accounts out there to the contrary). However, a comparison of the state of the now nearly-defunct Circle City Classic, to where it was before she was named President of The Organization — clearly shows she has failed the event, and by extension the community of Indianapolis.
Whispers of Tanya Bell and her Minions needing to be removed from all leadership positions did not just start recently. Back In 2013, A Change.org petition was filed to remove her from the organization. This petition leveled a variety of accusations against Tanya; including Misleading Sponsors on her status as an attorney, excessive spending on Non-IBE events while simultaneously cutting costs / raising prices, Having a short-temper and being disliked by a number of people within her own organization, and dismantling Committees and upsetting volunteers who were once the backbone of organizing and promoting the event.
Going even further back to 2011, controversy can be found surrounding Bell’s alleged lack of leadership capabilities. Local Indianapolis media TheIndyChannel.com reported on what they called a “Mutiny” against Bell. And well….I’ll just provide the quotes from this article for context.
In a two-page letter to the organization’s board dated May 6, employees questioned the organization’s president, Tanya Bell, claiming that she created an uncomfortable environment “filled with doubt and mistrust” in which employees were “disrespected, disregarded and demeaned.”
“She is the perfect example of a bully,” the letter reads. “People report going home and crying over working conditions at IBE.”
Staff members said grant dollars aren’t being spent on intended projects, and some said they witnessed figures in various financial documents being changed.
The letter also claims that Bell’s niece was hired and wasn’t reprimanded for watching pornographic material while working in the lobby and wouldn’t answer calls to the switchboard. She was eventually let go.
The three leaders who penned this letter were immediately fired from the organization.
As we near a decade of grumblings about Bell’s incompetence, the Circle City Classic may not even have that many years left in it’s existence. Despite whatever inflated and doctored numbers that IBE will surely trot out in order to spin the event into a success, every year Lucas Oil Stadium more resembles a ghost town during the game. This year the attendance appeared to hit rock bottom, with the empty seats of the stadium making the attendees look like shipwrecked passengers floating helplessly in the ocean. They could have held the game at one of the football fields of the 3 IPS high schools closing next year — and still had room for more people.
A long list of changes directly made after Bell’s appointment made to boost attendance, haven’t been able to breathe life into the once relevant festivities. I’m not sure how long you have to fail at doing your job before being removed from it, but the IBE’s string of ruining once-great events doesn’t stop with The Classic — their showcase Indiana Black Expo, is also currently on it’s death bed — but that’s an entirely separate article.
What actually already is in another article, is the Clown-Show Tanya Bell and IBE covertly promoted and hosted — The Ten Point Coalition’s Thousand Dollar Luncheon with Mike Pence also had her name on the front of the event’s invite.
All of this publicly available, long-known information points to the fact that Tanya Bell is terrible at what she allegedly does. I have read defenders of hers often state that instead of criticizing her, we should offer our own ideas and directions to improve the events. The problem is the biggest constructive criticism that a person on this side offers has been ignored far too long — that Tanya Bell, and everyone under her must go –The Black Festival Culture of Indianapolis will be dead and rotting if we continue to wait too long.