Essence is a Beautiful Thing 

By Jeff Thomas 

Another Essence Festival has come and gone, and despite the inconvenience of heavy traffic and people swarming downtown, New Orleans enjoys and benefits from another great festival.  Local businesses welcomed  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 offered days of free entertainment and nights of mega stars who entertained the crowds.  Huge acts like Janet Jackson, Erykah Badu,and Mary J. Blige, headlined the night concerts.  Scores of groups of women wearing matching Girls Trip shirts walked around town were , in honor of last summer’s hit movie.  The crowds seemed much bigger this year.  The Essence experience is a beautiful thing.  Over a hundred thousand African-Americans partied with a purpose.  And most importantly, the seminars, held in the convention center, are attended more than the concerts.  Knowledge and cutting-edge information are hallmarks of this great event.  

New Orleanians were able to visit the Morial Convention Center and mix with national TV, music, and movie stars.  Major sponsors hosted stages and each brought 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 much too loud music, offering free product samples, and giving away chances to win major prizes.  African American college sororities encouraged people to register to vote and vendors sold unique items like African cloth themed dresses, art and jewelry. Some of New Orleans best restaurants supplied plates of food that uphold the city’s reputation as a place to get good food.  Halls C and D in the convention center were transformed into a loud, lively marketplace that welcomed young and old alike.  People dressed in stylish and chic clothes.  Men and women exchanged approving glances as corporate America reaches out to the African American market in a unique and encompassing fashion.   

In its’ 24th year, the festival continues to be the best musical production in the city that hosts 100’s of festivals a year. No other show has the combination of sound, venue, light show and variety as the Essence fest.  And  the festival continues to adapt to the unique and complicated  upscale African American market.  More national retailers are setting 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  spend lots of money, and it is easy to see the $200 million dollar projected economic impact.    

The purpose portion of the festival is extraordinary.   Topics including education, relationships, women’s rights, voting rights, and sex are discussed in frank, candid and informative sessions led by national experts and celebrities.  Speakers included Iyanla Vanzant, Angela Rye, Vivica Fox and many, many others. 

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.  Slight improvements could enhance an already fabulous event.  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



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