Much of the annual 4-day event will focus on the black lives matter movement
Civil rights leaders will join survivors of tragedy for a frank discussion on the black lives matter movement in New Orleans this week.
The 21st annual Essence Music Festival, hosted every Fourth of July weekend, will take on a more serious tone during a series of daytime events at the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. At the festival’s Empowerment Series, Rev. Al Sharpton will share a stage with Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, in conversations on injustices facing the black community.
Organized by Essence magazine, which is owned by TIME’s parent company Time Inc., the festival comes amid a renewed discussion of race relations in America, especially the relationship between the black community and police and violence against African Americans. Last week, many of the Essence festival’s featured guests were in Charleston, S.C., for the funeral of a pastor gunned down along with eight parishioners by a man allegedly driven by racial hatred.
“The work that the community needs is urgent and pressing,” says Essence Communications President Michelle Ebanks. “We can’t just have a party.”
The festival comes amid a renewed discussion of race relations in America, especially the relationship between the black community and police and the problem of violence against African Americans. Essence Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa K. De Luca recently told the Huffington Post that she hopes to focus on positive solutions that can come out of recent tragedies.
“What better place than the festival to bring harsh conversations to light and deliver solutions?”
The event will also commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, with a series of community service events around the city, focusing on still-struggling areas.
For the past 21 years, the Essence Music Festival has brought a “party with a purpose” to New Orleans, tackling issues of from gentrification to mental health during the day and rocking out to performers like Prince, Beyoncé, and Mary J. Blige every night over the Fourth of July Weekend. City officials credits the festival with helping add energy to the often-quiet holiday weekend in the Big Easy.
Over the past 20 years, the festival has generated over $2 billion for the local economy, according to Ebanks, including over $240 million that was generated in 2014 alone.
“New Orleans is very early to this discussion,” says New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “We’re losing way too many lives on too frequent a basis. It is a conversation that we have had every year in New Orleans around this and we’re going to continue to have it as we go forward.”