The Essence Festival was filled with camaraderie and unity among total strangers. Photos Courtesy of EFEMJEE Creative Group and ESSENCE.
By ISHEKA N. HARRISON
NEW ORLEANS – The Essence Festival is indisputably one of the largest black festivals in the country. In fact, it’s so popular that the highly anticipated movie “Girls Trip” is based on a group of friends’ shenanigans at the festival.
The self-proclaimed “Party with a Purpose” has garnered a reputation for being the go-to destination where blacks can unwind for a weekend of fun and empowerment. Anyone who has attended can understand why.
In addition to being held in New Orleans (America’s party city), the festival boasts powerful speakers, great performances, beauty, fashion and fitness components, a wide assortment of events and giveaways, and intimate access to tons of Black America’s favorite celebrities. And let’s not forget the food; there is always lots of good food.
But one of the biggest reasons the festival has experienced over two decades of success is the camaraderie and unity it promotes among black people.
While attending the festival this year, the South Florida Times had the opportunity to speak with some attendees.
One of the prevailing notions was people loved Essence because, contrary to what mainstream media reports, it shows that black people can get together, have a good time and get along without negative incidents occurring.
“I’m from New Orleans, but I look forward to Essence every year. You can come and enjoy. There is no arguing or fighting. If someone bumps into you, they say I’m sorry. It’s just good looking black people coming together and having a good time,” an attendee named Ms. Ingrid said.
“The energy at Essence Fest is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Thousands of men and women from all over the country laughing, dancing and enjoying themselves with strangers; the feeling of community was prevalent throughout the entire weekend,” said Akuba T. Dawkins of Atlanta.
Dawkins said she felt the immense amount of tragedies blacks have been experiencing in America over the last few years has prompted them to be kinder and more empathetic towards one another.
“The unity that I saw among my people was inspiring. Essence has found a way to provide a mechanism to celebrate the best parts of being black in America and I’m definitely coming back next year,” Dawkins concluded.
Many of this year’s events reinforced the theme of black unity and how important it is for blacks to support one another. Highlights included: Master P’s Hope NOLA Celebrity Basketball Game; the Woke Wonderland, which connected prominent and grassroots leaders working for change; and the tribute to the iconic Cissy Houston during Gospel day.
Coca Cola, AT&T, McDonald’s, Ford and many others turned the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center into a family-friendly fun zone filled with a variety of attractions as well as concerts, interviews, games, giveaways and more.
As usual there were a slew of performances throughout the weekend, but the night that resonated most with many of the women was Saturday, July 1, when an all-female line-up hit the mainstage in honor of Mary J. Blige’s ‘Strength of a Woman” theme. In addition to Blige, performers included: Monica, Jazmine Sullivan, Jill Scott and Chaka Khan.
For Blige, the performance seemed therapeutic as she poured out her soul on the stage. She was visibly emotional, at one point literally falling down to lay flat onstage during her show.
She thanked her fans for supporting her and used the platform to give the men in the audience some advice.
“You only have one queen; not two queens, not three queens. Take care of home. … Don’t get all weird because we got our own stuff. If you’re a king, be confident. … Don’t ever compare me to anybody because there’s only one Mary J.,” Blige said.
One of the cons of the festival, which is probably a good problem to have, is the inability to do everything one wants because there are so many good things happening at the same time.
Lenetee Allen, 27, of Houston, Texas said she had a great time, but wished she had the chance to do more.
She said attending helped her realize the need for a game plan for the next festival, but she particularly enjoyed this year’s natural hair components.
“I attended my first Essence Festival this year and felt that the environment was very inclusive of the natural hair community. I’ve been natural a little over six years and have been exposed to new product lines as well as live demonstrations. Overall, it was well thought out and on trend within the natural hair community,” Allen said.
Sunday’s Empowerment Experience host Cheryl Wills noted that the festival was awesome, but uplifted Essence for its daily work of authentic content creation.
“They set the agenda by black women and for black women. We don’t need anyone else telling our stories. Essence tells our stories,” Wills said.