Community EngagementRacial Healing

Transformative Conversations: Highlights from the 30th ESSENCE Festival

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The W.K. Kellogg Foundation celebrated the 30th anniversary of the ESSENCE Festival of Culture, presented by Coca-Cola, with three impactful panel discussions.

WKKF’s Carla Thompson Payton, chief strategist and impact officer, kicked off the weekend at the Global Black Economic Forum Business Summit for an insightful conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the private sector. DEI is not only evolving but strengthening, and philanthropy is breaking down new pathways for building diverse brands and creating wealth. 

Payton was joined by Chante Butler, vice president of DEI at Diageo, and the conversation was moderated by Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, president and CEO of CapEQ. Payton highlighted WKKF’s Expanding Equity program, which has helped more than 100 companies develop and implement tailored DEI strategies that are built to withstand the uncertainties of an ever-evolving business environment and talent market. Payton also talked about the importance of impact investing to transform historical structures of inequities.

Companies in the private sector play an essential role in creating opportunities for people of all backgrounds in their workplaces and communities. By transforming policies and practices in the industries and systems that shape society and driving better results for companies, we can ultimately build equitable communities and an economy where all people can thrive.

The weekend continued with a special I Am New Orleans panel discussion on the Global Black Economic Forum stage. Panelists Ashley Shelton, executive director of WKKF grantee the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice, and Janai Nelson, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund led a powerful conversation on civic engagement.

Black Americans are under attack from the courts and state legislatures, affecting everything from voting rights to access to capital. The panelists described how these obstacles can make us feel discouraged and unheard, but change isn’t achieved by silence. They emphasized the importance of celebrating the wins and progress thus far, but the momentum needs to continue. Shifting power takes all of us. 

The benefits of civic engagement extend beyond us but to our children, families and communities for generations to come. When we show up and engage, we’re building a more equitable community for us all.

WKKF President and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron wrapped up the weekend alongside Academy Award-nominated actor Colman Domingo on the Global Black Economic Forum stage for a conversation on how personal transformation can ignite global change.

In this inspiring and authentic discussion, Domingo and Tabron reflected on their journeys of identity, healing, growth and belonging, sharing personal stories and challenges they’ve overcome. To heal is to restore to wholeness; to repair damage; and to set right. Domingo and Tabron explored exciting opportunities to create a society where everyone can live authentically and cultivate healthy relationships – a society where the future is bright for all.

"Who says racial healing can't involve dance and radical joy? We need radical joy when we are doing this work."

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