Tonia Jenkins-Morrison had always wanted to attend ESSENCE Festival, but the Yonkers, NY native realized that the time was finally right this year.
"I've been dying to get here for many years and now that I'm here, I know that I'll be coming for many more. The culture is amazing. Seeing all of us together and enjoying the history of the festival has been so amazing."
While her job often gets in the way of enjoying the ESSENCE Festival in its entirety, Gretna, Louisiana-native Shirley Lloyd makes it a point to enjoy as much of the annual event as she can.
"Unfortunately because of my job, I can only attend on Family Day. It's July and it's always my birthday month. I always like to start my birthday celebration off early by coming to ESSENCE."
For couple Charline Charles and Prince Haywood, their mutual desire to see singer Mary J. Blige take the stage isn't the only reason they made it a point to attend the festival's 20th anniversary celebration. ESSENCE Festival will always hold a special place in their hearts for a very important reason.
"Last year at ESSENCE is where we had our first date. It's kind of like an unofficial anniversary. It only makes sense that we'd come back to where it all began."
Nakia Anderson had more than a few motives driving her decision to attend the Party with a Purpose this year.
"My cousin is working here and I had never been to New Orleans or the ESSENCE Festival, for that matter. Being here has been great because I've gotten to see Black people and various cultures come together."
Though this native New Orleanian is now based in Houston, she always makes a point to return home for this annual event.
"I've been coming to ESSENCE since the beginning because of the family atmosphere. It's always nice to get out and be amongst the people and meet so many people from differnet places. I just come because I want to be here. It always leaves me feeling inspired, plus I always have fun."
Although she was born and raised in New Orleans, current Austin resident Crystal Jones and her family had never attended an ESSENCE Festival and felt that the 20th Anniversary was a great time to finally explore the event.
"The time was finally right this year. We've been wanting to come for a long time and we finally had a means and a way and had nothing to prevent us from coming. When you take summer trips, you want something for the entire family and this is one of the few events that allows you to include everybody."
For Los Angeles-based Jennifer Edwards, traveling to her first ESSENCE Festival was something she had looked forward to for a long time. While she is looking forward to the music, getting a chance to delve deeper into the Black community is an added reason that brought her here.
"Aside from just the music and having fun, it's gives us a chance to get together and talk about some of the big issues that are facing our community. I'm looking for to being able to discuss that the most."
For this pair of friends hailing from New York, seeing the differences within the Black culture, while also getting a big of food for their soul was a major draw for their first visit to ESSENCE Festival.
"This entire weekend is really about embracing the culture of the city to the fullest and getting all of these musical genres together and just loving every part of it," Zaire says. "The building up, the renewal, the pouring of love into our culture is also important," adds Kelly. "It's not just about the music; it's about everything."
This longtime Festival attendee and New Orleans native enjoys seeing visitors connect with the city she calls home.
"Every year, it gets more exciting and bigger. More and more people get to visit our great city and they get to see what makes New Orleans unique and special. I love ESSENCE Festival because it makes people fall in love with the city of New Orleans. On top of that, where else will you get see artist like Prince, Charlie Wilson and Jill Scott at the same event? It's such a great event."
After hearing from her friend, five-time Festival attendee Norka Jones about how great the ESSENCE Festival was, Tashah Smith decided to come and check things out for herself.
"Norka always talked about how much fun she had during the festival and I finally had to come. So far, it's been good people, good friends and pure enjoyment," says Tashah. "ESSENCE Fest means getting everyone together as a family and getting the chance to meeting new people and build long lasting relationships," Norka adds.
These Haitian sisters had more than enough reason to celebrate this year and chose the 20th ESSENCE Festival as the place to do it.
"I turned 50 on July 1st and what better way to celebrate than with your sister at this wonderful event," Marly explains. "The food has been great, the people have been great and best of all, I get to celebrate my sister," adds Myriam.
For this Washington, D.C.-resident, returning to the Crescent City for the third time was about more than just the food and the music.
"While the food and fun keep me coming back, I look forward to visiting the events at the convention center the most. All of the awareness booths and empowerment seminars share important information for a woman Black and beautiful woman like me. ESSENCE puts it down year after year."
Traveling from New Castle, Delaware for his first ESSENCE Festival has been everything that Lewis Toler hoped it would be.
"We wanted to come down and enjoy the people and the atmosphere and so far, it has not disappointed. When I think about ESSENCE Festival, I just feel like it's a great time for people to come together and just enjoy each other and create great vibes. The energy has been great and the fact that we get to check out Erykah Badu on Sunday just gives me even more to look forward to."
Although he was set to relocate to from New Orleans to Singapore several days prior to this year's Festival, Kareen Warren made it a point to put the big move off long enough to enjoy his last Festival as a local.
"I wanted to make sure I experienced my last Festival. It's always so great to see Black people come together to have a good time. I travel a lot, so I see a lot of diversity. When it comes to ESSENCE, it's a great time to be around our people. I'll always come back to this."
New Orleans' sweltering heat wasn't enough to keep Renee Pryor away from her first trip to the ESSENCE Festival.
"I've always wanted to come to New Orleans and I had time off. It just so happened to also be the Festival, so the timing was perfect. It was so worth the wait. I just love the culture, the vibe of the city and seeing everyone get together to have a good time in this hot sun and still be happy has been great to watch."
After enjoying a relaxing cruise with about 20 of his closest friends, Jeremy Crawford thought it only fitting that they end their vacation at ESSENCE Festival's 20th anniversary celebration.
"Everybody was talking about how good it was and so a lot of my friends have never been so we decided to come. Everybody has been so nice and the spirit of anticipation is already here. It's been great so far."
LaToya Smith had wanted to attend the ESSENCE Festival before but decided the time was right to attend her first one when she realized all of the milestones taking place this year.
"I'm celebrating my 30th birthday. This is the 20th anniversary of ESSENCE, the 30th anniversary of Prince's Purple Rain and the 20th anniversary of Nas's Illmatic. When I realized that, it just felt like I need finally come down here for all of these celebrations. I needed to come out and celebrate with you all."
This Chicago native's cousin played a major role in convincing her to travel to the Crescent City to attend her first ESSENCE Festival.
"My cousin has been asking me to come for a while. She wanted me to try something different, so I finally gave in. I am so happy I came. This is my first time in New Orleans and I love it. I can't wait to check out Trey Songz and Charlie Wilson."
While these New Orleans natives have attended countless ESSENCE Festivals in the past, this was their first time getting to take in the Family Day fun.
"We wanted to partake in the festivities as a family, in addition to getting to see Full Force perform," says Paul. "It's a new experience every year. It gets bigger and and better every time. It's a tradition for us now."
With about 15 ESSENCE Festivals under her belt, Diane Holden of Oakland knew it was important for her to be a part of the event's 20th anniversary celebration.
"I didn't come last year because I knew that the 20th was going to be good. It's like your birthday. When you turn 40, 60 or 21, don't you celebrate? Well, we've got to celebrate this occasion just like it's our own birthday."
It was the encouragement of friends that finally led Al Kabia to visit the ESSENCE Festival for the first time.
"I have friends who have been wanting to come for a while, so it just made perfect sense. They wanted to come; I wanted to come, so we made it happen. We're looking forward to seeing everybody and the celebration of culture, music, love, food and family."