Thousands lined up for Beautycon, an Essence Festival of Culture feature that offers free makeup, hair and skincare products to attendees and introduces them to new Black-owned beauty brands. Credit: Nigell Moses/Verite News

Crowds of people lined up to enter the Ernest N. Moral Convention Center during Essence Festival weekend (June 29-July 2). Thousands explored a variety of curated festival areas dedicated to topics from Black beauty and small Black businesses to Black health. 

The festival featured interactive experiences for attendees and provided space to celebrate Black culture and community. As always, the Essence Fest focused on uplifting and empowering Black women. There were panels, workshops, vendors and  keynote speakers including vice president Kamala Harris and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

A special feature of the festival was the SOKO NOLA Marketplace, a unique space for small Black-owned businesses to showcase and sell their products. The marketplace featured artwork, fashion apparel, books and jewelry. Black entrepreneurs said the marketplace helped them gain exposure for their brands and network with other Black-owned businesses.

“Being at the Essence Fest is just allowing me to connect with so many more people, seeing so many more Black entrepreneurs and Black vendors and Black companies really doing it out here and I feel really inspired,” said Geremiah DelValle, a 15-year-old published author from Virginia. His book “Lands of Scientia” is a super hero science fiction.

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Tiffany Walker, who was selling fashions from her brand PINK LUCY. Walker said the marketplace platform allowed her to reach her customers in a different way.

“It allows me to touch people in real life versus just being on the internet,” Walker said. “It’s something about being able to experience the brand versus just seeing it on social media.”

Another feature of Essence Fest was Beautycon, an important space within the Essence footprint, said Lori Lord, manager of the talent activated team for the Essence Festival of Culture. Women waited in long lines to grab free hair, beauty and skincare products. Attendees wrote their names and positive messages on purple and green boards throughout the area. The Beautycon experience “is a place where our beauty is fully embraced, where we can be unapologetically ourselves,” Lord said.

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At the Essence Wellness House, conversations sparked about Black women’s mental health and therapy. Participants were able to get their health questions answered by therapists. The hub featured support organizations like Therapy for Black Girls, an online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls.

“We wanted to help reduce the stigma around mental health for Black women,” said Ashley Cherry, the communications director at Therapy for Black Girls. “Black women are often the backbones of the community [and] the backbones of their family, so it was really important for our founder to make sure that we were seen and heard.”

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New Orleans native Nigell Moses graduated summa cum laude from Xavier University of Louisiana with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. She is a published contributing writer, with stories in The...