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Did Essence Fest Lose Its Essence?

By Edmund W. Lewis

The Louisiana Weekly Editor

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Essence Fest is dead ya’ll.

In case you haven’t been paying close attention, the annual summer event in the Crescent City that bills itself as the “party with a purpose” has lost its magic, luster and what little sense of purpose it used to have.

After two decades of bringing hordes of Black folks to New Orleans, the most African city in America, for a full slate of concerts, parties and empowerment seminars, the Essence Fest has become nothing more than just another festival, albeit a festival that is hugely profitable for the white business establishment.

It can boast of being one of the largest annual gatherings of college-educated and gainfully employed Black folks in the U.S., but it is not a gathering that has yielded much in the way of progressive thought or movement for the masses of Black people.

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The fest has become a major destination for Black folks who would rather party and listen in on Black-ish dialogue about the plight of Black America. Sadly, it has become a haven for the superficial and the self-absorbed, who come to the city to party, shop, eat delicious local cuisine and fawn all over petulant celebrities, reality TV stars and whatever eye candy is invited to sit in on empowerment seminar panel discussions.

The annual summer event which began in the mid-1990s has become a pilgrimage for Black folks and others who want to do anything but think critically about the plight of people of African descent or move toward creating a nation where Black people can enjoy full citizenship, justice and equal protection under the law.

The level of factual discussion and informed debate is considerably watered down when you compare it to annual events like the Power Talk gathering in Washington, DC.

The thing is, you don’t have to have a PhD to be a thought leader and you don’t have to have marched in protests in the 1960s to be an activist, but it would be a good thing if you have demonstrated your commitment to the struggle and the betterment of Black people by taking the time to develop your mind and actually studying the history of Black people.

Those who want to be leaders, writers and activists must do their homework, study the historical struggle of Black, Brown, Red and Yellow people to be recognized as free and equal human beings, hone their respective crafts and pay some dues.

What we get all too often at the empowerment seminars are self-proclaimed leaders trying to make a name for themselves by hitting audiences with eye-raising one-liners and snappy comebacks and folks peddling their latest book, clothing line or beauty products.supersize-your-dream_400x295_34

We shouldn’t be too surprised or dismayed by that.

After all, Essence magazine is a white-owned publication for Black women.

It is hardly your mother’s or grandmother’s Essence, where readers could find African-centered, thought-provoking articles about the plight of people of African descent in the U.S. and around the world.

Even though Essence magazine targeted Black women, its articles were so power-packed and insightful that the publication often found itself in the hands of Black men.

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Those days are gone as the publication has become no more than a shell of its former self.

One of my frat brothers reminded me recently of a remark by the late, great Dr. John Henrik Clark that makes it easier to understand why there is little “empowerment” in the Essence Fest’s Empowerment Seminars.

“Powerful people don’t tell the powerless how to gain power,” Clark observed.

That should resonate with anyone who is interested in improving the plight of people of African descent in the U.S. and throughout the world.

How often have you seen brilliant minds like Dr. Patricia Newton, Professor James Small, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, Dr. Leonard Jeffries or Dr. Charles Finch invited to Essence Fest to discuss the plight of people of African descent?

You’re far more likely to see actors like Shemar Moore, Boris Kodjoe, Lance Gross, Michael Ealy or Terence Howard, sisters like Taraji Henson, Kim Whitley, Kenya Moore, Nicki Minaj or Kerry Washington or singers like Eric Benet or Tyrese talking about important Black issues although they don’t have a documented record of studying these issues.

What we end up with is another classic case of the blind leading the blind year after year after year and many people wondering why so little progress is being made.   Read More.

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About The Agenda with Christian Kirk (59 Articles)
The Agenda with Christian Kirk is a 1-hr radio program that explores the black experience in America through relevant and thoughtful interview, storytelling and music.

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