NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Essence Fest marks its 20th anniversary this year with a kicked-up effort to empower its core community.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Essence magazine editor in chief Vanessa Bush said reaching the milestone year was their chance to extend the conversations started two decades ago.
“We had to go big and we’ve upped the ante,” Bush said. “Essence is known for this festival not just because of the stellar music at night but also because of the conversations offered during the day.
“We’ve had Barack Obama, before he was president; Hillary Clinton, Al Sharpton, congressmen and women, mayors and other leaders. They’re not coming because they don’t have anything to do on the 4th of July but they see the significance their presence brings and their messages bring to our community.”
The festival is known for its free Empowerment Experiences — seminars covering topics including finance, parenting and politics. Bush said this year’s dialogues will go deeper through a new initiative called Empower U.
“We found in listening to our audiences that they want more,” she said. “We found that just when you were getting started and into the conversation, it was time to move on to the next thing. Empower U will allow us to extend the conversations and go a lot deeper into the discussions.”
Bush said the workshops will augment seminars. For example, talk show host, author, actor and comedian Steve Harvey will hold a question-and-answer session about relationships, and there will be a crash course in entrepreneurship and careers, she said.
“These will be workshops that give the attendees some solid take-aways that will affect them in their everyday lives,” she said.
The daytime experiences also will give attendees an opportunity to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math fields as well as art and design.
The festival is hosting a competition for young innovators and adults who will develop computer programming solutions for New Orleans and a tech village that will give attendees insight into building websites and social media.
Prince, who opens this year’s nightly concerts at the Superdome, is a partner in the project, Bush said.
“It’s one of his passions and because it’s our 20th anniversary, he wanted to make a big statement — not just on stage,” she said.
The daytime events also will host PowerMoves Pitches to showcase minority entrepreneurs where they can get exposure to investors.
When the festival was initially conceived by former editor Susan Taylor as a one-time celebration marking the magazine’s 25th anniversary, she said she wanted it to be a “party with a purpose.”
“She didn’t want it to be just a party experience,” Bush said. “She wanted to find a way to give back through information and inspiration. These events go hand in hand with that mission and are a true extension of what Essence was designed to do. The fact that (the event) hasn’t waned over 20 years speaks volumes.”
This year’s festival runs July 4-6.