A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL
There is no denying it. Essence Festival 2018 was a huge success—one of the largest in its 24-year history. More than 500,000 visitors and locals attended concerts, empowerment events and so much more. It was a grand time.
The annual economic impact of this event has been estimated at more than $200 million—a huge boon to the city and businesses here, especially during the slow summer months.
New Orleans loves Essence! We have followed the progress and impact, especially when we think back to the times when some businesses in New Orleans did not want Essence to hold what was supposed to be a one-time event here in 1994. Major hoteliers were doubtful; some businesses shut the doors for the weekend. To be completely honest, there are one or two that did so this year as well.
Oh well, it was their loss. Did we mention that Essence Festival has an economic impact of $200 million?
What has us most excited about this year’s Essence Fest was the concerted effort to ensure that at least some of the economic impact created was felt in the Black community. From the thousands of individual festival-goers that sought out Black-owned business such as restaurants and shops to the major corporations that used Black service providers for their private events and parties during the Essence weekend, we were watching! And we like what we saw.
Every time we spied a group of folk outside of the CBD and the Convention Center, spending money on St. Claude Avenue or Bayou Road, maybe on Earhart or in the heart of the Seventh Ward, our hearts skipped a tiny beat.
We also know that the money spent at Black-owned businesses during the weekend-long event was just a minuscule portion of the commerce generated. Still, it was a start; the infusion of spending can be the very thing that allows small business owners to keep their doors open or hire new staff.
This is vital because Black-owned businesses are the second largest employers of Black people.
In fact, if Black consumers, alone, whose buying power is $1.2 trillion, would just double their spending with Black-owned businesses, those shops, pharmacies restaurants, law firms, doctors’ offices, architecture firms and various storefront retailers and service providers could provide employment to nearly 600,000 more people nationally. In a city like New Orleans, when Black-owned businesses thrive, entire neighborhoods and families thrive. So the Essence-fest related spending aimed at local Black business was a welcomed boost.
It was great to see—much needed, well-deserved and truly appreciated. But let’s never be fooled into thinking it is enough or should stop there. What the most recent Essence Fest weekend shows us–more than anything–is that it can be done. We have the capacity. We need the drive . . . and the will.
In fact, imagine if locals and visitors consciously patronized Black-owned businesses year-round. Our city would flourish because when consumers support Black-owned businesses, Black-owned businesses support communities.
So even as we tout the efforts that we observed to engage Black-owned businesses during Essence Fest weekend, we implore visitors, locals, major businesses, government entities and huge corporations to not wait until Essence Festival or Bayou Classic weekend or other events, such as Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras and the Sugar Bowl, that historically attract throngs of visitors to the city, to support Black-owned business.
This effort must be conscious, concerted and consistent.
It’s Not New, But It’s Needed
For nearly 30 years, McKenna Publishing has tried to make that effort a little easier. We first began publishing The New Orleans BlackBook in 1997. The BlackBook is still New Orleans’ most comprehensive directory of Black-owned businesses, service providers, churches and organizations. Whether you use the hard copy directory or the digital version, it remains an essential tool for New Orleanians committed to buying Black.
Meanwhile, the 2018 edition of Welcome magazine, hit the streets just days before the festival began. Produced this year in cooperation with our new partner, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., we were able to make it available this year, delivering thousands to local hotels, handing them out visitors, and even arranging for thousands to be distributed to attendees at other upcoming events that will attract a large number of Black visitors.
The specialty guide, which we began publishing 20 years ago, targets Black tourists to New Orleans, with the explicit purpose of providing them with articles, information and a directory of Black-owned tourist-related businesses and services because conscious consumerism can take place anywhere and at any time, even on vacation.
In short, we are not new to this. Whether through the pages of The Tribune, BlackBook or Welcome, McKenna Publishing has long heralded the importance of and the power to be gained from supporting Black-owned businesses. It has been our mantra since we began 33 years ago. In fact, Black economic empowerment has been our priority issue, along with public education.
We have watched and listened in recent years as others have added their voices to the important call to “buy Black”; and we are uplifted by the echo of that sound. To be sure, the message is so important that it bears repeating from multiple sources in multiple ways.
It can’t be said enough.
And we can’t do it enough.
Yet, for as long was we have promoted the idea of supporting Black-owned businesses, McKenna Publishing would not dare take the credit for creating it. It is a conversation, a message that goes back to the turn of the 20th century when organizations like the National Negro Business League formed in 1900 to support Black-owned businesses to African Americans and to the larger American society. It is the economic philosophy of Marcus Garvey revisited.
Dr. Martin Luther King talked about it during his famous speech in Memphis in 1968. While the most quoted text from that speech is Dr. King’s reference having been to the “mountaintop”, often less recalled is his admonition to those listening to stop spending their money with businesses that do not treat them fairly, encouraging them to bank Black and buy Black.
In the mid-eighties, national journalist Tony Brown launched his Buy Freedom campaign, encouraging Black consumers to patronize Black businesses.
The message really hasn’t changed since the 1900s. And it doesn’t need to. It is just as necessary now, if not more so, as it was then.
Support Black-owned businesses.
Support them—not just one weekend a year or during Black restaurant week or some other featured event. Of course, these occasions help highlight Black-owned businesses and are an excellent way to punctuate this message. But we ought to support Black businesses year-round in every way possible because they make a difference.
We know and appreciate the many community leaders and activists like Maj. Tracy Riley and members of the Collaborative that have already taken up this cause. Your voices are the very reasons things have started to change season. The data cannot be denied. New Orleans benefits greatly from the tourism economy and it is way beyond the time for Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs to share in that economy in an equitable fashion. Keep showing up and keep speaking out.
To the tourism leaders of influence, we implore you to listen and act. It is within your power to impact change in the area. In order for all of New Orleans to succeed, ALL of New Orleans must have the opportunities, resources, and access that has been historically out of reach of much of the Black business community.