I originally planned to write a post sharing the amazing experience I had attending my very first Essence Festival, which is not only a dope music festival but an overall empowering experience, or as it is described, “A Party with a Purpose!” I also felt it was important for me to reflect on why I was so moved by this event, because the impact it had on me was far greater than merely having a good time.
Admittedly, I am late to the game. This was the 25th anniversary of the Essence Festival, and while I had thought about attending many times, this was my first. The genesis of the Festival was a one-time celebration in 1995 for the 25th year of Essence, a magazine by, for, and about Black women. And 25 years later the festival is still the premier event for Black folks. It is meant to celebrate, inform, empower and love on Black women. And it does this flawlessly!
The festival is held every year in New Orleans the weekend near the 4th of July. The music! R&B, soul, hip hop, jazz, gospel, reggae… all of it. Big names, up and coming artists, throw backs… Big stadium concerts as well as small intimate venues and impromptu street performances. If you love music and dancing, you won’t be disappointed.
While the nights are filled with partying, the days offer opportunities for knowledge sharing and networking. Social justice, politics (five of the numerous democratic 2020 presidential candidates made appearances), wealth and money management, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, education, health and wellness, beauty and fashion. There are countless celebrities, public figures and athletes participating and attending. It is the place to see and be seen. A day of service invites attendees to get involved in restoration projects around the city, and a special festival strand for girls between the ages 12-17 offers mentoring for and empowering of our Black girls.
This festival is not just for Black women, yet it is very much about us. Mostly because it presents an opportunity to up-lift and celebrate, us! This is essential.
My personal experience is that we live in a society where Black women are most often disregarded, dismissed, and discarded. The truth of the matter is that we have been running things and putting it down for everybody since the beginning of time; And most certainly in this nation, since Africans first set foot on these soils as enslaved people. Black women have cared for others, sacrificed loved ones, and been deprived of countless opportunities. This is not up for debate.
We are often seen as not quite intelligent or capable enough despite the fact that we are educated and industrious. Our beauty is the opposite of the “standard.” While some of our physical features are “admired” they are most often objectified or seen as trendy. This is not to say that we aren’t cared for in our personal spheres, or that it should even matter what others may think and say. But representation matters! Because it is difficult to escape the negative images, hate filled speech, microaggressions and outright racist attacks on our person. It can create doubt and self-loathing within the Black community and internalized oppression.
I like to think I stand proud in my Blackness and as someone committed to creating a better world by toiling in the work of racial justice and inclusion, I still struggle with not losing myself and my identity for the sake of acceptance and tolerance. The futility of reassuring and supporting others on their cultural journey only to be blamed for their insecurities, it’s a heavy lift… Not to mention that Black women are often labeled as angry or difficult. Showing emotion can be a risk if not done in a measured and appropriate manner. Frankly, it is all very exhausting…
One of my favorite events at the festival was the appearance made by former First Lady Michelle Obama! On Saturday night she sat down to have a conversation with Gayle King, really all of us in attendance, to talk about some of the very things I just laid out above and it was so real and beautiful. That was probably the closest I’ll ever come to meeting Mrs. Obama, and I am fulfilled! By the way, have you read Becoming yet?
Essence Festival truly captures the spirit, depth and soul of Black women and Black culture. Celebrating individuality while reminding us, We Are One. It is an expression and encouragement of Black Love in a personal as well as community manner. It felt like a big hug and collective head nod of, “I see you!” I was affirmed and I needed that more than I realized!
Black folks, fam… if you haven’t already done so, find your way to the Essence Festival at least once… you deserve it! I’ll see you there…