Beyonce gave a show-stopping performance on the mainstage, Maxwell crooned passionately and seductively at the Superdome and notables like Iyanla Vanzant and Al Sharpton spoke in rousing empowerment sessions at the Convention Center. But Essence Festival is about much more than just entertainment.

Taking place in New Orleans annually, the 19 year-old festival now includes a prayer vigil for mothers who have lost their children to violence and a symposium to end violence in our cities among the activities.

Held in partnership with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the first-time Love, Loss & Life prayer vigil was designed to uplift mothers whose children are no longer living because of violence in our communities.

The program included testimonies from mothers, choir performances, a moment of prayer, a second line procession and a pledge by the community. The most moving part of the event was a ‘Wall of Remembrance’ (above) featuring images of the children lost to violence.

During the powerful vigil, Mayor Landrieu spoke about New Orleans’ murder reduction strategy, dubbed #NOLAforLife and #ESSENCEGunsDown series which fights against gun violence.

ESSENCE Managing Editor, Vanessa Bush, had this to say about the violence plaguing our communities: “The loss of young people to senseless violence is a national tragedy. Our community of ESSENCE readers is praying for our families. As mothers, when we send our children out into the world, we expect them to always come home. By joining with Mayor Landrieu and the City of New Orleans, we are coming together to mourn, rejoice and inspire a national movement.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu echoed her sentiments: “Partnering with ESSENCE is an important step in galvanizing women and making murder reduction a national priority. We understand that mothers who have loved and lost are critical in changing the culture of violence and in ending this unacceptable epidemic of young African-American men killing each other.”

Essence Festival also organized a panel on “Reducing Violence and Murder in America” with mayors in major cities: Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, Georgia, Mayor William A. Bell of Birmingham, Alabama and Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans.

With over 540,000 attendees, the largest in its 19-year history, Essence Festival is one of the most popular, successful festivals targeting people of color. For those who feel we don’t do enough about crime in our own communities, Essence Festival is one of many shining examples of the contrary.

Check out videos from the panel:

And a video from the prayer vigil:

How are you fighting violence in your communities?

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