Left photo: LaShannon Petit, left, and her mother Ernestine Mike-Petit took a girls’ trip to Essence Festival this year. Center Photo: Benjamin Evans, left, said meeting actress Yara Shahidi was the highlight of his time at Essence Festival. Right photo: Flo Gaspard, left, and actress Rochelle Ayetes during a promotional event for Gaspard’s book ‘I Am Unstoppable.” Photos Courtesy of Benjamin Evans, LaShannon Petit and Flo Gaspard.
By ISHEKA N. HARRISON
NEW ORLEANS – Every year during the weekend leading up to America’s celebration of independence, droves of beautiful black folks from all walks of life converge on New Orleans (NOLA) to have a celebration of their own.
For 23 years, the Essence Festival has been an anticipated celebration of black life, black art and black culture – and this year was no different.
Black beauty was on full display in all shapes, shades and sizes. Celebrity interactions were numerous, but it was also not uncommon to run into someone one knew from home.
Whether they came simply to enjoy the festival, to work or to participate in a particular activity and/or event, some of South Florida’s finest invaded NOLA and called it home for the weekend.
Though ESSENCE is a women’s magazine, the festival appeals to men, women and families alike.
Read below to hear about some of the highlights and experiences from South Florida attendees.
LaShannon Petit of Miami Gardens attended Essence Festival with her mother, Ernestine Mike-Petit.
“This is my third year attending the festival and my mom’s first year attending the festival. For us, more specifically for me, it is just a time to recharge, become empowered, celebrate being a black woman and just being alive. I enjoy all the aspects of the festival. It’s something for everyone. If you’re married, if you’re single, it’s an experience for everyone to enjoy. I enjoyed the concerts and food of New Orleans, but the most important aspect for me is the empowerment piece,” Petit said.
Benjamin Evans of Miami has been coming to Essence since 2014. This year he attended with his sister and cousin.
“Meeting Yara Shahidi was the highlight of my trip. I normally don’t geek out on celebrities but I was so excited to meet this young black queen who is an example to so many on how to do it right. She’s intelligent, talented, funny and above all humble. She really cares for causes that impact young women around the world and uses her star power for good. I hope this virtue remains with her as she makes it through Harvard,” Evans said.
Flo Gaspard of Miami attended the festival for the second time this year. She promoted her book and enjoyed the festivities.
“I had a great time promoting my book, ‘I AM Unstoppable’ at Essence. I made some great connections. It’s all about what you make it to be and having an end goal. I was able to experience various ends of the festival from business and politics to entertainment. I was able to meet new people and attend events with these new people. I enjoyed mingling with the locals, learning about facts and the history of the city and experiencing the New Orleans cuisine,” Gaspard said.
Brian Brackeen of Miami enjoyed the festival, but thought it had room for improvement regarding education and focusing more on tech.
“It was very good, and yet could have been so much better. Too much to type on a Monday, but they have a great platform but are shoving too much sugar on the crowd. (It) needs some veggies if you know what I mean; more entrepreneurship, more education in general. They should be insisting on SnapChat, FB and others to be there … so little tech for a tech focused group. (They) need to do more to help people open their minds beyond DJ’s, Coke, Walmart and just dance, dance and drink,” Brackeen commented on Facebook when asked about his experience.
Though everyone had different experiences at the Essence Festival, most agreed that it is a great platform for black people to come together, enjoy and have memorable experiences.