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Love Letter to the ESSENCE Festival Audience

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Vanessa K. Bush
Vanessa K. Bush, Editor-in-Chief

Dear Essence Family,

Thank you for your generous love and support at the 2013 ESSENCE Festival. More than 540,000 of you showed up in New Orleans over the Fourth of July weekend to enjoy fun, food and fellowship with your ESSENCE community of readers. Together we have made history! That’s our largest crowd since 1995.

We felt blessed to have your presence with our extended ESSENCE family of editors, panelists, vendors, sponsors and performers. And what a time it was!

As I reflect on the beauty and joy that was the ESSENCE Festival, my cup is filled to overflowing.

It all started on the Fourth of July with our free Family Reunion Day at Woldenberg Park, a first-ever event for us. I saw you lining up with your lawn chairs and blankets one half-hour before we opened the gates, and you hung out with us all day until the fireworks lit up the night sky. As I walked through the sea of revelers, 55,000 in all, there were smiles all around. We hoped that the music on the soundstages, cooking demos and family-friendly games we had planned would make you happy. And we also hoped the panels hosted by journalist Soledad O’Brien at the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center—including topics on protecting our children and raising happy, healthy kids—would deliver the kind of thought-provoking content you’ve become used to seeing in ESSENCE over the last 43 years. And here’s what you told us:

“Where can you find intellectual stimulation, soul soothing inspiration, tastebud tingling dishes and music that causes total eargasms…Only at the greatest festival on earth! ESSENCE once again put together a dream line up of all things empowering. Feeding all who attend with strength, pride and fearlessness.”—Shuray Merriweather

On Friday we officially kicked off the ESSENCE Empowerment Experience at the Convention Center, with a focus on celebrating our culture and connecting with our community. I saw you all—church groups, families, couples, girlfriends—flooding into Hall A to hear from some of our community’s greatest thought leaders. Each of the panels featured on stage first originated in the pages of the magazine. We listened intently as mayors from major cities—Cory Booker of Newark, Kasim Reed of Atlanta, William Bell of Birmingham, Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans—spoke of the challenges our communities are facing and how we can fight back. Saturday’s lineup included a thought-provoking panel celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and featured Civil Rights icons such as Rep. John Lewis, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Myrlie Evers-Williams. Keynotes were delivered by the Urban League’s Mark Morial, the National Action Network’s Al Sharpton and OWN’s Iyanla Vanzant. And we rounded out the Empowerment Experience with a gospel tribute to Donnie McClurkin and Tramaine Hawkins, and a first-ever, soul-stirring Prayer Vigil for Love, Loss and Life, co-sponsored with NOLAForLife, a moment for us all to show our support for those mothers who have lost loved ones to gun violence.

My favorite part of the weekend? Meeting you. Thank you to those of you who took the time share your own journey to ESSENCE Fest. It means more to us than you will ever know. We exist to serve you, and when we see you in full splendor—optimistic, emboldened, empowered—providing the antidote to the sterotyped images we must battle daily, it renews our resolve to be the outlet that always speaks the truth of who we are, and who we hope to be. We do not take you for granted.

Speaking of outlets, our first-ever partnership with MSNBC could not have come at a better time. We know you’ve got something to say about the issues—health care, jobs, voting rights, immigration reform, gun control—that impact on our communities. But all too often we have been silenced. MSNBC and its hosts—everyone from Tamron Hall, Alex Wagner, Joy-Ann Reid and Melissa Harris Perry to Chris Matthews, Ed Shultz and the Reverend Al Sharpton, allowed you to raise your voice and speak your truth. And hearing your passionate opinions had me beaming, and brimming with pride.

The social media space—Facebook and Instagram in particular—gave us another way to see and hear about your ESSENCE Festival experience, from your style and beauty, to your running buddies, celeb-fan encounters and restaurant finds.

The nightly concerts at the Superdome also gave us a way to come together and enjoy those favorite artists who have contributed to the soundtrack of our lives—folks like Jill Scott, Maxwell, Charlie Wilson, LL Cool J, Jody Watley, New Edition and Beyoncé. Yes we, too, Wobbled, Cupid Shuffled and did the Electric Slide right along with you in-between performances, cracked up to Nephew Tommy and cheered on producer Will Packer as he proposed marriage to his lady love on the Main Stage. These were nights we’ll never forget.

As we prepare for the 20th anniversary of the Festival, we invite you to share with us the stories you would like us to bring to life in 2014. Write to me at Vanessa@essence.com and tell me about issues we need to tackle at the Empowerment Experience, and the artists you want to see light up the night at the Superdome. This is YOUR Festival. And serving you the way you deserve to be served is our purpose.

Stay in touch,

Vanessa

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