The Essence of Black Excellence

Epic Year for Essence Fest

It was truly historic and epic as a sea of ebony faces came to the Crescent City for the “Party with a Purpose”. This year did not disappoint as the Essence Festival celebrated 25 years. The 2019 ESSENCE Festival presented by Coca-Cola® attracted more than half a million attendees to New Orleans last weekend for an historic 25th Anniversary Celebration representing one of the largest gatherings in the event’s history.


“The 25th Anniversary ESSENCE Festival represented a truly transformative global homecoming celebration for Black women and the Black community,” said ESSENCE Chief Executive Officer Michelle Ebanks. “This year’s extraordinary turnout reflects ESSENCE’s uniquely powerful engagement of Black women around personal empowerment, community, and culture as only ESSENCE can. With the debut of 10 new Festival experiences, activations at more than 40 venues across New Orleans, and engagement with more than 300 small businesses and local vendors, we have redefined the Festival as the largest and most impactful destination at the epicenter of Black culture.”


Inspiration and Aspiration of a Community

This weekend had so much going on and Data News Weekly was on the front lines for many of the events.


Saturday night was sold-out. As we walked toward the venue people were scrambling to get tickets to enter the Superdome. Forever First Lady Michelle Obama who made her first-time headline appearance was inspirational and aspirational as she spoke to the audience. While there were thousands gathered, it felt intimate as the former First Lady being interviewed by Gayle King, spoke on a host of subjects from her life as a mother, daughter, wife and First Lady trying to balance life and career and living with a sense of purpose.


Over the course of three days, 100 performing artists took the stage at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Many of the biggest names in the entertainment industry headlined, including Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, H.E.R, Nas, Pharrell, Patti LaBelle, Doug E. Fresh, Teyana Taylor, Big Freedia and the return of Frankie Beverly and Maze to close out the festival.


Essence: The Voice of a Community

Since Essence Fest is a “Party with a Purpose”, the Ernest Morial Convention Center held seminars on a range of topics that affect the African American community and speakers and guests included: more than 300 influencers, leaders, creators and celebrities participating in the Festival’s daytime experience. Featured powerhouse speakers included Rev. Al Sharpton, Ava Duvernay, Yara Shahidi, Tyler Perry, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Marsai Martin, Valerie Jarrett, Iman, Common, Mona Scott-Young, Miles Brown and Iyanla Vanzant, among many others.


As we are entering the political season, seven presidential hopefuls took the stage making their case as to why they should occupy the highest office in the land. With two African American candidates, Sen. Corey Booker and Kamala Harris speaking to the largest gathering of Black Women in the nation.


Expanding its Footprint: The Essence Festival of Culture…Black and Global

This year it was announced that the Festival is going through a re-branding and is now called the Essence Festival of Culture. Reflecting the vision of Essence Publisher Richelieu Dennis, to grow Essence’s footprint globally.


This was evident as the festival’s debut of the ESSENCE Global Black Economic Forum connected attendees with accomplished leaders and chief executives including Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, Chase Consumer Banking CEO Thasunda Duckett, Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, and TDJ Enterprises CEO TD Jakes, among others.


Today the Essence Brand stands as the example of a company that continues to shine the light on the best of what the African American community represents at all levels. This sentiment was summed up by Michelle Ebanks. “In honor of us embodying all that Black excellence and culture represent – beyond entertainment and beauty, we were thrilled to reveal the Festival’s official rebrand to the ‘ESSENCE Festival of Culture,’ with a mission to inform, inspire and uplift Black women and provide a holistic approach to how we offer and deliver Black culture in every way.”


New Orleans, Tourism and the Black Dollars

Tourism is the heartbeat of the city’s economy and while many events come into the city including the Essence Fest (which left behind an estimated 300 million dollars of economic impact), many of those dollars do not end up benefiting the City of New Orleans. Historic Mayor LaToya Cantrell took center stage to speak on this issue informing the audience at the first Global Economic Forum that only 9 cents of every tourism dollar stay in the City of New Orleans. Mayor Cantrell continues to support the Essence Festival and tourism in general and has prioritized getting more tourism dollars back to New Orleans as one of her own signature issues. Recently, Cantrell took the fight directly to the State Capitol and won $50 million upfront dollars for the City, approved to be received from tourism, with an additional $26 plus million being approved for subsequent years.   


She also spoke of how the Essence footprint can expand to more places in the City that can benefit more local and Black-owned businesses. Dennis agreed and planned to work with the Cantrell Administration on this issue.


New Orleans and Essence – An Example of Black Excellence

Today the Essence Brand is strong, viable and visionary, shining the light on the excellence that is the Black Experience both here and abroad. From the early days of Ed Lewis, the founder to Richelieu Dennis, its present owner and from former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial who bought the festival to New Orleans a quarter of a century ago to present Mayor LaToya Cantrell; Essence continues to be an example of Black Excellence on full display in America’s most international and African City.


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