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Bill Cosby, Tyler Perry, Rev. Al Sharpton, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California and CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien are among the politicians, celebrities and public figures who will address Essence Music Festival audiences at the Morial Convention Center this weekend (July 4-6). Essence Empowerment Seminars cover a variety of topics ranging from education, politics and business to spirituality and family life. Admission is free.

This year, Essence programming includes several panels addressing issues affecting black families. 'The state of the black family is being challenged by a dire statistic: the number of kids being raised by a single parent," says O'Brien, host of the current CNN speical report 'Black in America." 'It affects income level, education, job opportunities, crime, everything. Those numbers have changed since the '60s " dramatically, and in the wrong direction. So while blacks have made gains in lots of areas, we are at risk of losing the whole ballgame on that statistic alone."

O'Brien will moderate a discussion titled 'Finding Solutions" with panelists Waters, Morehouse College President Dr. Robert M. Franklin and Jabali Sawicki, a charter school founder. 'What we really want to do is bring the best of the best to work toward solutions," O'Brien says. 'You get people who are the smartest in the field, and you [put] them together for an actual conversation."

Essence also presents entertainers like New Orleans native Tyler Perry who will address cultural issues. The actor, writer and director will accompany his cast from the TBS series House of Payne at the convention center Friday to discuss the show and his other work. Perry also will present a trailer for the film The Family That Preys Together starring Jennifer Hudson and an episode premiere of House of Payne.

Donna Richardson Joyner, wife of popular WYLD FM 98 radio DJ Tom Joyner, will mediate a discussion on relationships, and Keshia Knight Pulliam, who charmed American television audiences as Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show, will join a group of women to discuss the representation of black women in the media.

It's a hot-button topic, especially with a presidential election that highlights the manner in which race is portrayed in the media. O'Brien, who has a multicultural heritage including African, Cuban, Irish and Australian ancestors, says that during her career in the news media, she has had ample opportunity to compare the representation of race and gender issues in news coverage. 'A lot of the images you see of black women today are in videos or of single moms," she says. 'To me that is troubling. white women have numerous ways that they are portrayed." She goes on to say that the negative images in media are not limited to black women but black people in general, and that one of the contributing factors is poor reporting.

Saturday's focus will be on education and the black family. Rev. Sharpton delivers opening remarks and will lead a discussion with the family of Sean Bell. Early on what was to be his wedding day in November 2006, Bell and two other men were shot by New York City police outside a club in an event that stirred outrage over use of deadly force. The three men were unarmed, and Bell died as a result of the shooting.

Bill Cosby will participate in a talk about failing schools and the correlating achievement gap in urban communitities.

The seminars conclude on Sunday with programming focused on spiritual inspiration and praise featuring members of New Orleans' Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church. There will be words of inspiration from Bishop Paul S. Morton Sr. and Pastor Debra Morton, and performances by the church's choir, the church's liturgical dancers and other musical artists.


Essence Empowerment Seminars

Friday, July 4: Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Jonathan Slocumb, Tyler Perry and the cast of House of Payne, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Angela Burt-Murray and others.

Saturday, July 5: Bill Cosby, Maxine Waters, Soledad O'Brien, Rev. Al Sharpton, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, Tom Joyner, Dr. Robert M. Franklin, Cheryle Jackson and others.

Sunday, July 6: Rev. Al Sharpton, Mikki Taylor, Dr. Juanita Bynum, Bishop Paul S. Morton of Greater St. Stephen Full Baptist Church and others.

For the full schedule and list of topics visit


click to enlarge CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien will moderate a panel about finding solutions to problems in education. - CNN
  • CNN
  • CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien will moderate a panel about finding solutions to problems in education.


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