Essence Festival of Culture returned to New Orleans on Thursday, kicking off with a press conference featuring the Essence leadership team and top festival partners. Host Toya Wright and moderator Pauline MalcolmThornton, Essence chief revenue officer, were joined by sponsors to provide a glimpse of the hundreds of events and experiences taking place at the four-day festival.

Emphasizing this year’s theme of “It’s the Black joy for me,” Essence CEO Caroline Wanga offered words of encouragement and affirmation for the more than 530,000 attendees.

“When you come here, that shoulder rub you got, that head nod from a stranger … is the thing that puts that fuel in your tank, puts that armor on your spirit,” Wanga said. “That when you go back to wherever you are, when there’s a few less melanated people than where you are now, you realize that you might be in a small group by yourself, but you’re not alone.”

Prior to her speech, Wanga thanked New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell, the first Black woman in the role, whom she referred to as a “Bad sista who fights battles that nobody sees.”

“The investment and the impact on our economy is truly appreciated and truly meets us where our needs are,” Cantrell said. “But as the first woman mayor in the city of New Orleans in its 300 years, you gosta know it’s the Black joy for me.”

Henry Hendrix of Coca-Cola — the festival’s presenting sponsor for the past 26 years — emphasized his mission to continue fostering relationships between the company and minority-owned businesses like Essence. Hendrix also announced the fourth season of “If Not for My Girls,” a conversation series that celebrates the power, bond and friendship of Black women, and this year’s cast: Chloe BaileyJustine Skye and Ryan Destiny.

“Representation matters,” Latondra Newton, of The Walt Disney Company, said prior to announcing Hulu as the official streaming destination for Essence Fest primetime musical performances by Janet JacksonNicki MinajSummer Walker and more.

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