By Jeff Thomas
Another Essence Festival is upon us, and despite the inconvenience of heavy traffic and people swarming downtown, New Orleans enjoys and benefits from another great festival. Local businesses welcome the influx of customers, and our citizens are privileged to host and participate in four days of empowerment and entertainment. The famous party with a purpose offers days of free entertainment and nights of mega stars who are sure to delight the crowds. Huge acts like Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige will perform while luminaries like Michelle Obama, Marc Morial and Rev Al Sharpton will be honored and offer inspirational speeches during the night concerts. Walking around town are scores of groups of African American families spending freely while enjoying the New Orleans experience. The Essence experience is a beautiful thing. Over a hundred thousand African Americans party with a purpose. And most importantly, the seminars are attended more than the concerts. Knowledge and cutting-edge information are hallmarks of this great event.
New Orleanians are able to visit the Morial Convention Center and mix with national TV, music, and movie stars. Major sponsors host stages and each brings in a variety of acts to attract crowds and help promote their products and brands. Located only feet apart, the stages compete for the attention of the masses by blasting loud music, offering free product samples, and giving away chances to win major prizes. Some of New Orleans’ best restaurants supply plates of food that uphold the city’s reputation as a place to get good food. Halls C and D in the convention center are transformed into a loud, lively marketplace that welcome young and old alike. People dress in stylish and chic clothes. Men and women exchange pleasantries as corporate America reaches out to the African American market in a unique and encompassing fashion.
The purpose portion of the festival is extraordinary.
But probably the best part of the Essence Festival experience are the seminars. This year’s seminars are broken into three categories – The Power Conference, The Global Economic Forum, and E-Suite. This year Power Conference speakers include- Iyanla Vanzant, NOLA’s own Mayor LaToya Cantrell and 4 other African American female mayors from around the country, as well as Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Maxine Waters, and Jemele Hill and Angela Simmons. Essence says, “The Power Conference features inspiring keynotes and conversations with today’s most influential voices shedding light on how we can tackle the issues that are impacting our communities together.”
The Global Economic Forum will welcome visitors to, “an exclusive live forum on Black wealth with the most influential power players across a wide range of industries. Network at the CEO Roundtable engage in thought-provoking panel discussions and help set the framework for economic progress for our communities, globally.” Speakers include – Bernard Tyson (CEO Kaiser Permanente), former NOLA Mayor Marc Morial, Beatrice Espada (Founder The Honey Pot), and Greg Shell (Bain Capital) to name a few.
The E Suite focuses on career growth and job opportunities and encourages participants to “grab your pass to a members-only lounge for senior-level women in business. Shatter the ceiling with impactful conversations and keynotes with executives and business owners who are committed to your success!” Danna Brazile, Sevetri Wilson, and Valerie Jarrett who all hail from NOLA headline a stellar group of presenter in these sessions.
In its’ 25th year, the festival continues to be the best musical production in the city. No other show has the combination of sound, venue, light show and variety as the Essence fest. And as the festival continues to adapt to the unique and complicated market. More national retailers aresetting up shop in the convention center and having direct contact with existing and potential customers. The vendors in the market bazaar offer high quality art, and clothing and jewelry and artifacts. People are spending money, and it is easy to see the $100 million dollar projected economic impact. New Orleans is a better place because of the Essence Fest. And New Orleans is the one American city uniquely able to successfully host the party with a purpose. More local African American businesses need a piece of the pie. More effective and earlier outreach to attract qualified businesses will benefit Essence and the city. And Essence should open a local office with a business incubator to help grow local companies to share in the Essence wealth. Thanks Essence and thanks City of New Orleans