UPDATED: 8:45 p.m.
Essence Fest has responded to criticism surrounding a court’s temporary restraining order against a Black-owned bookstore’s block party being held during the annual celebration in New Orleans.
“The event organizers misled artists into believing that they were participating in an Essence Festival event. Shockingly, the event charged each author a $650 fee to participate under the guise of working with Essence,” Essence Fest said in a tweet. “Essence does NOT charge authors to participate in their programming. The event organizers intended to charge the public for their event while Essence programming is free of charge and open to the community.”
The statement added: “Essence repeatedly asked the event organizers to stop their misleading activity and to refund monies to all who had been taken advantage of in the name of Essence.”
An attorney for Essence Fest expressed a similar sentiment.
“Essence was very disappointed to learn that an event organizer was exploiting Essence Festival patrons and authors. The promoter falsely advertised that their event was in partnership with Essence when it was not,” James Williams said Saturday in a statement to Nola.com. “Essence repeatedly asked the event organizers to stop their misleading activity and to refund monies to all who had been taken advantage of in the name of Essence … We hope the event organizers will do the right thing and refund the money they obtained from the public under these false pretenses.”
A court order courtesy of one of the signature celebrations of Black culture has forced a Black-owned business from holding its own event.
The Essence Festival successfully sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) against a Black-owned bookstore to keep the small business’ planned literary block party from happening in New Orleans. The TRO went into effect on Friday just hours before Essence Fest was set to kick off, NOLA.com reported.
Baldwin & Co. was scheduled to hold its event to honor Black authors before the Black-owned business was issued the TRO via a letter. Essence Fest also sent a cease and desist letter to author Tamika Newhouse, who organized the block party.
The TRO and cease and desist suggest that the event didn’t go through the proper licensing procedure to be included as a vendor during the annual Essence Fest celebration. Essence Fest maintains that it is not associated with the block party but that organizers still used Essence Fest branding to promote its event.
“It is deeply ironic that Essence, which claims to celebrate and uplift the Black community, would choose to target a business like Baldwin & Co., which aligns with the values of community service and empowerment,” Baldwin & Co. owner DJ Johnson said in a statement. “Such actions are not only unjust but also tarnish the reputation of Essence and raise questions about its commitment to supporting the Black community as a whole.”
One author who said he was slated to appear at the literary block party similarly expressed frustration with the court orders.
“I did not have the Essence Festival in New Orleans using a restraining order to shut down a community event at Baldwin and Company Books on my bingo card for this weekend,” Maurice Carlos Ruffin tweeted on Friday afternoon. “This is the worst for my city.”
The New Orleans City Council, which approved an ordinance for the block party to happen, condemned the court order blocking the literary event.
“It is completely inappropriate for any large-scale event visiting the city of New Orleans to negatively impact our local businesses with something akin to a non-compete clause,” New Orleans City Council President JP Morrell said in a statement. “It’s especially concerning that the canceled event was organized by a Black-owned business and would have showcased Black female authors on a weekend that is supposed to be dedicated to Black culture.”
Morrell added: “It was never the intent of the council for any ordinance, much less the Clean Zone Ordinance, to impact private businesses hosting private events that happened to coincide with the timing of Essence Fest. We are looking into how this occurred and how to prevent it from ever happening again.”
The social media reaction to learning that Essence Fest had blocked a Black-owned business from holding an event at the same time as its annual event has been brutal.
“Disgusting,” one tweet said before adding with apparent sarcasm: “For the culture, though.”
One person commenting on Baldwin & Co.’s Instagram post telling people its Friday night event was canceled said it was because “Essence has resorted to intimidating small black owned businesses.
The comment went on to add:
The illusion of Essence, claiming to be for black culture and a standard bearer excellence, while also making attempts to bully a small black owned business is blatant hypocrisy. Essence has resorted to threats of litigation if Baldwin & Co. and Lit House host author events this entire weekend, in accordance to a Clean Zone Ordinances agreement signed by City of NO officials. This ordinance has already been deemed unconstitutional in other cities. Shame on Essence Festival.
This is a developing story that will be updated as additional information becomes available.
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