The Essence Festival of Culture is one day away from making its official return, but this time it’s celebrating a special moment. Originally launched as a one-time event, the festival will be turning 30 years old, a milestone Caroline Wanga, president & CEO of ESSENCE Ventures, says many events have yet to reach.

“There’s very few things in our lives that we encounter that have been around longer than we’ve been alive,” she tells ABC Audio. “And so for me, the first thing is 30 years is nothing to sneeze at. I’m not sure what other things have survived 30 years, like, that’s a very small group of things.”

Part of its success, Caroline says, is due to the fact that it’s a safe space for Black people to be themselves “without having to help a majority culture understand us.” 

“It’s about the fellowship and authenticity that comes with just putting your shoulders down. When you just know you’re with your folk, and when you’re with half a million of your folk,” she explains. “It is such an authentic reflection of our cultural habits and traditions as Black folk.”

She also credits the festival’s longevity to “the culture and beauty of New Orleans,” which has been the festival’s home for 30 years, and the fact that it’s evolved to be an event that lives “at the intersection of joy and justice.”

“We don’t make people let their joy go because we have a justice moment. We’ve earned the right to exist at the intersection,” Caroline says, mentioning the voter information booths that will be available at the event. “I think that the Essence Festival of Culture is a perfect example of that, because we still do the work that we need to do to educate and empower our community. We just do it and have some fun.” (AUDIO 1-ON-1)

The Essence Festival will take over New Orleans from July 4 to July 7. Headliners include Janet Jackson, Charlie Wilson, Usher and Birdman & Friends.

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