The city of New Orleans recently experienced a $200 million dollar economic boost as the EssenceFest returned after a two-year hiatus. While attendees enjoyed concerts, parties, empowerment workshops, powerful panels and plenty of shopping, may agree the highlight was a visit from Vice President Kamala Harris.
In a standing-room only room, actress Keke Palmer moderated a conversation with Harris, who told attendees to use their voices as the country faces the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade.
The last time Harris spoke at Essence was in 2019, before she made history as the first woman of color to become Vice President of the United States. Breaking barriers throughout her life, prepared her for this role.
“Don’t hear ‘nobody like you has done this before’, I like to say, I eat no for breakfast,” Harris told the crowd.
Harris took this opportunity to address some of the issues plaguing the African American community, including the recent Supreme Court decision, to overturn Roe V. Wade.
“The Supreme Court, with the Dobbs decision, for the first time in the history of our nation took a constitutional right that had been recognized and took it from the women of America. Took a constitutional right,” Harris explained.
Harris says those most impacted will be women without means, who may have to travel to get the reproductive care they need. Another major concern for her? What else the supreme court may reconsider.
“What that means then in terms of what else is vulnerable that we otherwise thought was settled, including issues like contraception, including issues like same-sex marriage, including the intimate decisions that people should be able to make that I call heart and home without government interference,” Harris said.
Palmer asked how everyday citizens can step up to get involved in whatever issue they’re passionate about. Harris said, don’t be afraid to use your voice.
“There is power in knowing that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us,” she said.
Black maternal health and related support is something Harris said has long been an issue she fights for.
“We have to recognize we’re a nation that was founded on certain principles that are — that are grounded in the concept of freedom and liberty,” Harris said. “We also know that we’ve had a history in this country of government — trying to claim ownership over human bodies.”
Harris also highlighted other successes of the Biden-Harris administration including historic efforts to address environmental injustice through the Justice 40 Initiative and funding to massive lead pipe removal. Harris lifted up the value and importance of youth leadership in response to a question about getting young people engaged.
“We have a history of these movements being fueled by students, by young leaders,” she said. “And you could look at anything from who was taking to the street articulating with Black Lives Matter to who has been now out there marching on choice, who is out there leading on so many of the issues that are about the climate crisis that is pounding on the door for attention and swift response.”
The city’s contract with the festival is up in 2024 and talks are underway for an extension. The festival’s CEO recently pledged it will never leave New Orleans.