Right before the festivities of this year’s ESSENCE Festival of Culture kicked off, Girls United, ESSENCE’s Generation-Z-centric platform, hosted their second annual Day of Service.
Taking place at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, New Orleans natives, volunteers, and ESSENCE staff came together to serve the Louisiana community with activations, performances, and even a special surprise for all of the children in attendance. Sponsored by Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Disney, and AT&T, this year’s Day of Service went off without a hitch beginning with a press conference featuring remarks from ESSENCE CEO Caroline Wanga, reality star and author Antonia “Toya” Johnson, Mayor of New Orleans LaToya Cantrell, and Girls United co-creator Rechelle Dennis.
With 230 campers across six NOLA organizations – including KUUMBA Academy, Future Femmes, Dancing Grounds, Studio BElite Collective, Youth Empowerment Project, and Mic-Amped Summer Leadership Project – 2022 Girls United Day of Service was yet another success! With youth performances by Warron Easton High School Band and Dancing Grounds, and spinning tunes by DJ Arie Spins, children, teens, and young adults came together to celebrate the beautiful culture of the city of New Orleans.
GU Day of Service also included an HBCU Peer-to-Peer Panel moderated by associate editor D’Shonda Brown. HBCU students Zion Rouege (Xavier University), Nina Giddens (Xavier University), Tiana Thomas (Southern University Baton Rouge), Daryelle Dehhonah Mitchell (Southern University New Orleans), and Aaliyah Ali (Dillard University) joined Brown on stage for a conversation about their HBCU experiences. Campers ranging from 16 years old and up learned from the students about being student leaders in their communities, how to apply for HBCUs, and advice they’d give to incoming freshmen and interested prospects.
While older campers enjoyed the panel, younger attendees engaged in rotating activations including Mardi Gras beading to understand more about the creative aspect of New Orleans culture, the Drumming Circle to highlight the historical significance and modern interpretation, and Art Painting of Ashe Mobile, where participants had the opportunity to paint a mobile mural throughout the Youth Block Party.
To round out the afternoon, Brown and ESSENCE Gen-Z editor Brooklyn White introduced the Shining Star Day of Service Awards to attendees. With this special accolade, Target awarded Ashe campers with $100 gift cards at the end of the day for exemplifying leadership and Black joy throughout the day’s activities. They were each also gifted with tote bags that included Day of Service certificates signed by Girls United co-founder Rechelle Dennis, McDonald’s gift cards, and “I Have A Mayor Named LaToya” written by Charell G Coleman about Mayor of New Orleans LaToya Cantrell.
At the end of the program, Disney Dreamers Academy Executive Tracey Powell presented the “Watch Them Grow” scholarship to members of St. Augustine High School. The eight $2,500 scholarships were awarded to eight families of 9th through 12th graders with GPAs ranging from 3.1-4.63. Recipients included Pierce Marshall, Kaden Kelly, Kenyon Hughes, Bryce Robinson, Samuel Bonds, Turner Duncan, Daunte Kelly, Shane Payton-Hodges, and Malcolm Venable.
As a special surprise, Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and New Orleans native Ambré performed for the campers as well as parents and volunteers.
To learn more about Girls United, head to girlsunited.essence.com.