Essence Festival is a Necessary Celebration Of Blackness in a Hostile World
2018 ESSENCE Fest The Roots set featuring Erykah Badu and Jill Scott
Paras Griffin/Getty Images
From the moment my plane landed in New Orleans, I knew the weekend would be magical. Though I’d been to the Essence Music Festival twice before, touching down in the Big Easy this time felt like coming home, and the flight attendant confirmed it.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Wakanda,” he said eliciting cheers from my fellow fliers.
While New Orleans doesn’t contain Vibranium, fierce warriors, or technology so advanced it’s never been seen before (though Michael “Bae” Jordan and his abs were definitely in the house), it is one of the Blackest cities in America, home to a rich history and legacy that predates the U.S. From Bourbon Street to Congo Square, Black folks from across the diaspora have left their mark on the city, leaving behind their cuisine, music, and culture for the rest of us to enjoy.
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There’s something welcoming about “Nawlins,” as our shuttle driver insisted we call it (“Because there’s nothing ‘lean’ about us. We like to eat!” he said), and the Essence Music Festival made it even more special. The concerts are the main draw of the weekend, but being surrounded by so much uninhibited Black Joy is affirmative and necessary, particularly in the Trump era.
At a time when walking, driving, barbequing, or performing community service while Black can result in a run-in with police, Essence Festival is a space where we can have a good time without worrying about #BBQBecky or #PermitPatty ruining the fun. In fact, as the festival director described it, the entire weekend felt like “a big hug for Black women,” and we definitely needed it.
I got my entire life listening to New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell talk about her historic election and her plans to revitalize the city and increase opportunities for other Black women. And when she encouraged sisters in the room to “take your rightful seat” and begin to lead, it felt like a call to action. I also felt inspired when Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, talked about protecting young Black girls and helping them become the next generation’s leaders.
Black women pour into our communities as mothers, sisters, friends, and partners, but we rarely have spaces where we come first. From the panels in the convention center that discussed everything from entrepreneurship and electoral politics to mass incarceration and branding, the festival gave me, and the hundreds of thousands of Black women who attended, every single thing I needed to level up my life.
This year, more than 510,000 of people flooded New Orleans for the festival and accompanying events–thanks, in part, to last year’s hit comedy Girls’ Trip, and if their experience was anything like mine, they not only had the time of their lives but also left fulfilled both emotionally and spiritually.
In America, Black folks don’t have a lot of spaces where we can celebrate our culture and just enjoy being alive and among our people, but Essence Festival is one of those rare places. For three days, Black folks come together to dance, drink, and celebrate our magic. And in a country that has systematically tried to break our spirit, you can’t underestimate how valuable and necessary that experience is.