Today is July 5th, otherwise known as the day after the holiday after one of the most Blackity-black events in this country, a.k.a. the 2022 ESSENCE Festival of Culture.
Not enough can be said about the amount of Black joy, excellence, magic and realness that completely engulfs the city of New Orleans summer after summer because of this event. For me specifically, this year marked the very first time I was able to partake in all of those vibes IRL (that’s in real life for all those uncultured out there), after the popular festival went virtual over the last few years due to COVID-19.
But just like Beyoncé said: we back ‘ousside!’ And because of that, I felt it fitting to recap some of my favorite moments from this year’s ESSENCEFEST. Starting with...
As a person who works in media and interviews celebrities on a pretty regular basis, I’m not often star-struck or at a loss of words when in the presence of any of them. But it was something about watching the iconic Janet Jackson perform a medley of her hits for nearly two hours straight on Saturday night that had me up and stuck at her beauty, talent and stamina. The woman is over 50—allegedly—and has the rhythm of an entire nation (ha!) in her hips, shoulders, and legs. She gave a masterclass on how to still be at the top of your game years later all while snatching my edges at the same damn time.
Yes, you read that right, and yes, that really did happen.
One of the best parts of Patti Labelle’s set on Saturday night was when she brought out the iconic Debbie Allen—and a handful of dancers from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy—to close things out. As they were gitchy-gitchy, ya-ya-ya-ing, Allen decided to hit the three-point stance and twerk it out one time for the one time, and LISTEN: I have never been so surprised and inspired in my life.
As most folks know, Debbie Allen is a legendary and highly-revered dancer and choreographer; so for her to do a dance that gets commonly frowned upon by folks outside (and sometimes inside) the African-American sphere, that just lets me know that even our OGs like to let loose and throw it in a circle every now and then. And for that, she will continue to have my utmost respect. (P.S. Miss Allen if you’re reading this, please tell me your secret to your long-lasting vibranium-fueled knees. I haven’t been able to do a three-point-stance since the early 2000s. Please spill all the tea.)
Look, as someone who used to sing and dance in a past life, there’s nothing I love more than the sound of multiple voices singing in unison and multiple bodies moving in lockstep. Both usually make my heart sing, but it was something about the moment that DJ D-Nice brought out Dru Hill during his set on Saturday night that took my joy from 100 to 1000. Especially when the first few notes of their hit “Tell Me” started playing, I couldn’t tell who was more on-point with the moves: my entire section or Sisqó.
Even as I jumped from side to side, I was able to look to my right and left to see that literally the entire section I was sitting in was all hopping from left to right and laughing with others who were doing the same. If that ain’t the personification of Black folks having a good-ass, Black-ass time with nary a care in the world, then I don’t know what is. I hate to jack y’alls theme ESSENCE, but it really was the Black joy for me in that moment.
I don’t have to tell you how liberating it is to meet up with people after so many years of isolation—especially those who work in the same industry as you with whom you’ve forged online friendships and connections. That liberation and connection was definitely present at the “It’s the Black Press For Me” event put on by Springhill Company and Beats by Dre, which was specifically held for Black writers, journos and PR folks. While the food and drinks were top-notch (I’m going to have dreams about the giant charcuterie spread for awhile), it was the camaraderie with my peers who work across various outlets and companies that really sealed that event as one of my favorites out of the 50-leven hundred that were going on that weekend. (I also heard the inaugural Thee Media Mavens x ESSENCEFest Takeover Brunch sponsored by VH1 was also an overwhelmingly positive experience for Black girls in media and related industries, too. But you didn’t hear that from me. *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*)
There were a whole lot of other moments that a couple of sentences in this article just won’t do justice to. Overall, my 2022 ESSENCEFest experience was definitely one for the books. And while I’m suffering from an extreme case of travel fatigue, and may be good on beignets for a while, I undoubtedly can’t wait to experience that kind of Black magic all over again.