Vice President Harris, Biden officials to attend Essence Festival

Sources close to Harris told theGrio that she personally requested to attend the annual gathering at a moment of uncertainty for Black women and the community. 

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Vice President Kamala Harris and other members of the Biden administration will be on the ground at Essence Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. The vice president’s appearance at the annual event will be on the same night as Janet Jackson’s headline performance at the Superdome. 

California Senator Kamala Harris speaks during the 25th Essence Festival at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 06, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Josh Brasted/FilmMagic)

Harris’ appearance will resemble that of former First Lady Michelle Obama, who attended the Essence Festival in 2019 for an intimate conversation moderated by news anchor Gayle King about her New York Times best-selling memoir, “Becoming.” The celebrity conducting the interview with the vice president has not yet been announced.

Sources close to Harris told theGrio that she personally requested to attend the largest annual gathering of Black America with a focus on Black women. The timing of the request is, in part, due to her understanding of this moment of uncertainty on various levels that impact Black women and the community. 

Some of those issues of uncertainty have placed Vice order President Harris at the forefront of the administration’s fight. Harris has become the face of the White House’s battle for legal reproductive care after last week’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade — which the Biden White House has said is a top priority for the administration.

As a U.S. senator and now vice president, Harris has also led on the issue of Black maternal health and has emphasized the alarming data that shows Black women are three times more likely to die during pregnancy.

The last time Vice President Harris made an appearance at Essence Festival was in 2019 when she was a Democratic presidential candidate. She was one of a number of presidential contenders who understood the magnitude of this audience and worked for a direct connection to the community in exchange for their votes. 

California Senator Kamala Harris speaks during the 25th Essence Festival at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 06, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Josh Brasted/FilmMagic)

Thursday officially marks the start of the festival, where the discussion over women and their bodily autonomy will take center stage. Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned parenthood, will also be at the New Orleans event that is facilitating a host of conversations and events.

Many advocacy organizations will be hosting pop-up events outside of Essence Festival in support of the fight against the multifaceted issues facing Black America.

Glynda Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights, is hosting several activities around the festival –  which is in full swing after it shuttered for two consecutive years due to the pandemic – designed to educate and empower. 

As Carr noted in an interview with theGrio, “Black women from across this country will be ascending into New Orleans, flexing their economic power, their buying power, their political power, and their power to not only center joy. She added, “but also to take this moment to recognize that Black women are the driving force in America.”

The issues important to Black women are in abundance, added Carr, from reproductive rights to voting rights, to “ensuring that our communities are economically thriving, educated, healthy and safe.” She said the events are geared toward “helping to center Black women’s political leadership and political power.” 

During their time there, Higher Heights will be highlighting the work of Alicia Garza, Soledad O’Brien and theGrio’s very own, April Ryan.

April Ryan
April Ryan speaks onstage at the 2017 ESSENCE Festival presented by Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on June 30, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for 2017 ESSENCE Festival )

Black Women’s Roundtable, Win With Black Women, Emily’s List, and more, are some of the organizations hosting gatherings and discussions. Melanie Campbell of the Black Women’s Round Table will be convening women leaders with a focus on the midterm elections and the fight for reproductive rights.  

Campbell told theGrio that leaders from battleground states will be present as primary elections are underway. The NAACP and National Action Network will also be there to promote civic engagement.

Friday is a big day for Essence Festival with a focus on the federal government and the Biden administration. Cabinet secretaries will sit down in a conversation about administrative successes and agenda items.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, senior advisor to President Biden, Mitch Landrieu, along with the EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Shalanda Young, will be on stage to discuss the economy and next steps with the massive infrastructure bill that President Biden signed into law, including the removal of lead pipes in Black and brown communities. 

Young, the first Black woman to run OMB, told theGrio that her festival discussion will translate what the Biden administration “values” and how those values are turned “into dollars” for funding key priorities like Black maternal health.   

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young arrives for testimony before the House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee May 17, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Young is a mother of an 8-month-old and is leaving her child for the first time to make the trip to Essence Festival. The sacrifice is necessary, she said, as Young wants to serve as an example to the Black moms who are attending. 

“Research says people that look like me are high risk of not making it out with your child. And that’s a problem,” said Young. She added, “representation matters.”

Young said she suffers from blood clots, something that tennis star Serena Williams opened up about. For women like Young, Williams, and others, clots are a matter of life or death during and after pregnancy. 

Young said attending Essence this week is a “full circle” moment for her as she was a student in New Orleans in the ‘90s when the Essence Festival began its historic rise. 

For the administration, the director noted, “it is important for us to get out to places like Essence and let people know what we are doing.” It is a time for the administration to “hear directly from people,” she said.

Young, matter of factly, said of the crowd of attendees for the festival: “Our people aren’t shy about letting you know what is on their minds and where they are coming from.”

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