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In the Audience or On Stage...You Decide

Originally posted 04/12/2012

Tracy L. Darity Souvenir Program 1997 Essence Music Festival
Tracy L. Darity Souvenir Program 1997 Essence Music Festival

Essence Music Festival

It’s been 22 years since I attended the Essence Music Festival that would ultimately change my life. The year was 1997 and the empowerment seminars were just that, empowering.

No comedians trying to take center-stage, no reality TV stars with a platform; and when we still believed Tavis Smiley was the next great Black Hope.

Twenty-five years later the Essence Festival is still all that and a bag of chips, but for me, the 1997 festival will go down in my memoir as that pivotal moment when I first decided it was my time to get on stage.

The Importance of Being On Stage

Authors are often asked, when did you start writing, how did you know you wanted to be an author, and how did you get your start. Like most, the desire was always there. An over-active imagination as a child, a love for reading, or a desire to write and journal, are just a few traits that most writers share. But it wasn’t until that July 4th weekend in 1997 that it all became crystal clear.

I ventured down to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the scheduled seminars. The Just Sisters forum, moderated by Dr. Gwendolyn Goldsby-Grant—which I didn’t know at the time—would become the backdrop for my first novel, He Loves Me He Loves Not!

Afterward, the Just Brothers discussion kicked off. Tavis Smiley, who at the time was the host of BET Talk, moderated the discussion. T

here had been so many nuggets of information dropped by panelists such as Sister Souljah, an author, and community activist, Rolanda Watts, former talk show host, and Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, a noted author and lecturer.

I was like a sponge soaking up all their knowledge. But the biggest nugget of them all came from Smiley, who told the audience of over a thousand, “We all have a God-given talent, but it’s up to us to define, develop, and deliver that talent. If not, we’ll always be in the audience and never on stage.”

After that awe-inspiring aha moment, I went back to my hotel room and reflected on what he'd said. At the time I was an employee for the City—not really enjoying my job, and knew without a doubt I didn’t want to be like some of my co-workers who were content having been on the job for 20 or 30 years.

The Morning After

The next morning we had a late flight out so I decided to head back to the convention center and check out some of the vendors. I made my way into the book marketplace to peruse the hundreds of titles for sale.

Over the weekend many notables were having signings. Les Brown, was on tap with his motivational book It’s Not Over, Dr. Dennis Kimbro, was offering Visions for Black Men, Bertice Berry (where is she now), had Sckraight from the Ghetto, and the list went on.

But as notable as the line up appeared, it was three relatively unknowns that caught my attention. They were standing side-by-side hawking their books to the many people browsing the stacks of available books.

I was first drawn to one of the two guys; he introduced himself as Michael Baisden. His book was titled Men Cry in the Dark. My first impression was; this guy is really cocky. After I listened to his sales pitch I asked the next guy about his book, he was a little more humble as he introduced himself.

Eric Jerome Dickey told me I would love his book, Friends and Lovers. The female in the group, Tananarive Due wasn’t as aggressive; she stood back and watched as the other two worked me for my dollars.

In the end I purchased a book from all three, and as it turned out, The Between, by Due was the book I loved most.

Defining and Developing My Gift

If you’ve ever experienced the Essence Music Festival you know that as much as you take in, there is still much you didn’t get to see or do. This may play a large role in the success of the festival. It is one of the largest annual festivals hosted by the city of New Orleans. As I left with my books I was so energized with thoughts of defining, and developing my gift.

After witnessing the confidence and exhilaration of the three authors who would go on to be successful, in ways probably beyond their wildest dreams at that time, I knew it was time for me to take my writing past the pages of my journals.

I returned home and immediately began penning my first novel. Although it took me ten years to finally present it to the world, I am glad I did. Now with three novels under my belt and in preparation for the fourth, I am happy to say that my talent has been delivered, and I owe it all to a weekend in 1997 when I ventured to New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival. It’s true what they say, “It’s a party with a purpose,” and that purpose for some is to say, your destiny begins today.

Peace and Blessings,


Tracy L. Darity, is the author of He Me Loves Me He Loves Me Not!, Love…Like Snow in Florida On a Hot Summer Day, and The Red Bear Society. Her much anticipated non-fiction work When Sunday Comes Will I Still Believe God will be released in the fall of 2019.


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