Approximately 500,000 people descended upon New Orleans July 2-6 to partake in the experience known as the Essence Festival. It’s part education, part party, part concert, part shopping excursion, part networking event, and ALL the way fabulous. It is impossible to participate in every aspect because there is so much to choose from, but you are guaranteed to leave elevated and inspired. Being in the presence of leading business leaders and celebrities from nearly every industry was truly a mind-blowing experience. Here are the top lessons I learned that can help us all to achieve greater peace, joy and success:
#1 Deepak Chopra: What You Put Out, You Get Back
New York Times best-selling author and one of the greatest minds of our time, Dr. Deepak Chopra graced the stage at the Convention Center in a panel moderated by former CNN anchor, Soledad O’Brien. In his inaugural Essence Fest appearance, he spoke about moving into a place of peace and love. He invited African American community leader Erica Ford, leader of NY Peace Week, to join the conversation. She told of how she used to be filled with anger and called Dr. Chopra out to bring his peace-building work to the “hood” where people faced daily struggles. He accepted the challenge. For years they have inspired youth to turn from violence and choose the higher path. Ford discussed a time a fired employee slapped her, but she did not retaliate or react; she knew she’d grown. Their core message was that love is stronger than hate. Focusing on peace creates it, while focusing on hate just leads to more hate. Dr. Chopra reminded us that karma is real and “there is no debt in the universe that doesn’t go unpaid.”
#2 Meagan Good/DeVon Franklin & Shanice/Flex Alexander: Love is Patient, Love is Kind…
Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin, along with Shanice and Flex Alexander, represented healthy marriages. Meagan transparently discussed being celibate long before she met her husband, DeVon, and together they decided to remain celibate until marriage. She said she didn’t change because a spiritual man showed up in her life; it was when she first changed and honored her spirituality that he showed up. She cleared the clutter from her life and was able to attract who she truly was all along. Many have asked DeVon if his wife’s revealing outfits upset him. He said they don’t try to control one another, but accept each other, which gives love the freedom to grow. Long-time spouses Flex and Shanice are starring in their new reality show airing on OWN. For them it isn’t about exposing drama, but rather about exposing the world to enduring black love. Flex shared that they have faced turmoil as a couple, but it brought them closer together: “We just wanted to show people that it’ll turn around with love and patience and kindness and sincerity.” The testimony of both couples was a reminder that like a flower, love takes time, nurturing and space to bloom into something magnificent.
#3 Trayvon Martin’s Mother: Be Proactive
Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain youth Trayvon Martin, appeared at Essence Fest to carry on the impact of her son’s legacy and the Trayvon Martin Foundation, which reaches out to families of victims of senseless violence. She implored, “Don’t just get involved when there is a story or tragedy or something makes you upset … make sure you’re staying actively involved during the ‘down’ time.” She explained that people become passionate after something bad happens, then it fades away. To create a real impact she said give your time, talents and funds to causes, participate in jury duty, vote—let your voice be heard consistently, and then lasting change will occur.
#4 Iyanla Vanzant: Write Your Own Life Story
One of the final Empowerment speakers was OWN’s Iyanla Vanzant. Her keynote started off with soul singer Kem crooning to the audience. Iyanla shared her story of being with the wrong man for 40 years because she did not value herself. She said so many of us repeat the same old story of pain, recalling who hurt or wronged us in the past, but it’s time to take back our power and write a new script. Comparing people in our lives to cast and crew of a film, she suggested setting a standard for your co-stars. You might even need to hire a bodyguard to make sure the wrong people don’t gain access. Iyanla elicited tears, cheers, and all-too-knowing sighs from the audience with the empowering advice:
“Tell your story in a way that honors who you are, not who you were. You’ve got to tell your story in a way that gives you the strength you need to go on to the next page, and the next chapter, and the next episode. Some of us think our story has to remain a horror story, but we know that our story is what either inspires us or holds us back.”
*Article feature photo by B. McKinzy Photography*
Sarni graduated from the acclaimed Medill School of Journalism and has published articles for publications nationwide. When not seeking new adventures in her neck of the woods or across the continents, she enjoys her work as a branding and public relations specialist. She helps develop and expand luxury, lifestyle and conscious brands. Sarni believes the irony in travel is that the more you explore humanity’s differences, the more you realize just how connected we all truly are.