Beyoncé and her bad girl band may have rocked the Louisiana Superdome Saturday, but it was the men who shook things up at the ESSENCE Cares Empowerment seminars. From celebrities Tyler Perry, Common and Blair Underwood to intellectual thinkers Michael Eric Dyson, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu and David Johns, the men delivered powerful messages on why mentoring, education and respect are equally important in shaping the minds of our youth and especially young Black boys on Saturday.

“These young men need to understand that it’s a journey to becoming a man,” said actor and author Hill Harper backstage. “Having a gun or 20-inch rims doesn’t make you a man. That’s not a journey.”

Harper, an avid supporter of mentorship and one of the many featured guests at the 13th Annual Essence Music Festival presented by Coca-Cola empowerment seminars, spoke to participants about why mentoring is one of the most effective tools when inspiring young boys to become better men.

Movie mogul Tyler Perry began his speech about the importance of a proper education, but segued into a humble plea not to forget the children and people of his hometown, New Orleans.

“These are not people who are looking for a handout, they just need a hand up,” Perry said center stage from the Ernest J. Morial Convention Center. “They need someone to help them back onto their feet and by you being here, you’ve truly inspired so many of them, including myself, to try and make it and do the best they can.”

During the panel discussion “What Makes a Man,” moderator Roland Martin led rappers Chuck D and Common, singer Lyfe Jennings, the Reverend Conrad Tillard, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu and David Johns in a dialogue about the complexities of being a man today.

For actor Blair Underwood, who was also a speaker during the seminars, helping young Black men is simple: “Just be there for them.”

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