Stars came from all over the country to support one of the only family oriented events during Essence Weekend in New Orleans. The 3rd Annual Essence Family Fellowship also welcomed Black College delegates. To attract more youth, the event embraced the theme, “Summer Lit Fest”. The event is orchestrated each year by Metro Assembly of Faith Church in New Orleans to provide a positive family atmosphere which targets youth for Essence Music Festival Weekend.
“Most of the events during Essence are adult driven. Other than the Convention Center there isn’t much for youth. We saw a void in the weekend and committed to fill the void,” said Pastor Ro Wright of Metro Assembly of Faith (better known as “Metro Church”).
“Essence is a wonderful experience for the Black Community. It is full of love and hope and friendship. It has been our goal to expand that platform each year to the local families who are easily overlooked during so much excitement in the French Quarter,” he added.
Wright reaches out to celebrity friends each year asking for their time and influence to motivate local youth to set life goals, prepare for the upcoming school year, and also share their ‘road to success’ stories. “Parents are always looking for opportunities to keep their kids focused on their dreams. Hearing celebrities speak on education simply confirms what parents continuously try to instill in their kids,” said Minister Erika Murray, Metro Church Director of Operations.
Metro Church is no stranger to these kind of of events. Recently, the church partnered with Actor Kofi Siriboe and the cast of the TV Show ‘Queen Sugar’ to feed 250 Homeless people in New Orleans. Last year for Essence Family Fellowship, VH1 Reality Show Star Monyetta Shaw and Lance Nichols from HBO Treme stopped by to speak to the youth. “If God has given you a platform of influence then you have a responsibility to use that influence in the right way. I have no problem reminding celebrities of their obligation to their own community and I challenge them to make an impact,” said Pastor Ro.
Jackie Christie, star of the Reality TV Show Basketball Wives, had no problem answering Pastor Ro’s challenge. She humbly accepted the invitation to speak to the youth. “Never give up on your dreams. I am living proof they do come true,” she told the kids. She was accompanied by Darren Henson, star of the movie Stomp The Yard. Henson reminded the youth to pay attention to who is there for them. “You may be used to people not showing up for you, walking out on you, and leaving you hanging but pay attention to who does show up when you need them,” said Henson. He told the youth their parents care about them. “Your parents care about you. Your teachers. Your pastors and leaders. There are many celebrities who really are concerned about you,” he said.
Henson and Christie, rearranged their schedules to attend the event even on short notice. They even spoke privately to some of the youth and encouraged them one on one. Christie just released her new book and she was able to share advice from her book with many of the parents who attended the event.
Reginald Robinson, one of the new actors on the Queen Sugar TV Show, rearranged his schedule to be at the event as well. “Pastor Ro has been like a mentor for me. When he called about speaking to youth I knew I needed to be there. I have worked in the system and I see what these kids face everyday. Celebrities can be that spark which encourages them to choose light rather than darkness. I’m always willing to be a vessel of hope for our youth,” said Robinson.
Robinson told the youth to be prepared for greatness. He encouraged them to stay active in their school, church, and local organizations. “All these opportunities are just providing the skill and experience you need to make your dreams come true. I was in the Boy Scouts and plays and all kind of school projects which ultimately prepared me for success,” he said.
Neo-Soul singer Caren Green performed at the event. Caren hit the stage with rapper Mystikal the night before to a sold out crowd at House of Blues but she wasn’t too exhausted to give back to the youth. She poured her heart out to the youth and had them all singing her song, “Be The Light”.
One of New Orleans’ rising stars is singer Casme, who is featured singing in the latest Wal-Mart television commercial. She led her song, “Black is Beautiful”, but brought many kids on stage to sing the song with her. Casme, is also the Praise & Worship leader at Metro Church. She headlined an event the night before at Carver Theatre with some of the top gospel artists in the country. “It was important to be at this event. Our kids must remain our priority if we want to perfect our community,” she said.
New Orleans rapper, 5th Ward Weebie, was booked to do several events on the day of this event. He made his way to the event and closed it out big for the kids. His popular dance songs brought all the kids to the stage for one big party at the closing of the event. “Seeing kids in a positive environment and dancing to my music is what it’s all about. That’s why I do what I do. I want to see people enjoying their life,” said Weebie.
The UPHY Step Team from Ruston, LA mesmorized the crowd. The step team is a group of 12 year old boys who have mastered the art of greek stepology at a very young age. They were a delight to see, not only because of their stage performance but because they were in uniform, very well mannered, and it was easily obvious that they take what they do seriously. Parents and supporters drove from North Louisiana to support the youth and they represented their organization well.
The Elev8 Dance Squad from Southern University performed their electric moves and stunned the audience. But perhaps the highlight of the evening was the participation of Astra Watts, the past Miss Grambling St. University, and Felise Thompson-Doyle, the next Miss Southern University – Baton Rouge. Even though they spoke individually, both of the school queens joined together on stage to encourage the kids to consider attending an HBCU as they prepare for college.
Miss Southern even shared her testimony admitting her mother had her when she was 12 years old but was able to get her life back on track and she became successful. Miss Grambling shared her life story but also explained how attending Grambling St. Unviversity opened her mind and broadened her life expectations.
Dancer/Rapper, Lucky Lou, opened the event and electrified the crowd with his pulsating moves. Nebu Neezy, a singer from Lafayette, LA, sang a little of Whitney and Chaka to give the parents a great time! Comedian Blowfish had everyone laughing as he sparked the stage with his funny jokes.
Harold Clay, Edna Karr High School principal, invited Metro Church to use Edna Karr as their venue for the event. “Our staff and administration was eager to help with the event because we know the value of working together as a community. Improving the educational environment for our kids is going to take the help of educators, entertainers, and most definitely our churches,” said Clay. All the workers at Edna Karr High School volunteered to help with the event for no charge.
Greater You Counseling Center helped to sponsor the event and also attended with free giveaways for the youth. The center is committed to reaching local families and providing opportunities to improve the New Orleans family structure.
“It’s very hard to compete with the excitement downtown during Essence but we believe we should all be just as excited about reaching our kids and keeping them inspired,” said Minister Murray. The church has confirmed they will do the event again next year.
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