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Michelle Ebanks & Richelieu Dennis Celebrate Being “Back In Black” With $100 Million New Voices Fund
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Michelle Ebanks & Richelieu Dennis Celebrate Being “Back In Black” With $100 Million New Voices Fund

This year's ESSENCE Festival was special for a few reasons.


First, it would mark the first time that rapper and innovator Queen Latifah would rock the mic with a curated performance at the Fest. Second, it turned 24, which is a number that means companionship, harmony, and idealism – all characteristics ESSENCE has been blessed its weight in gold. But third, and most importantly, it marked the first festival for the media corporation since once again being 100% black-owned, thanks to Shea Moisture founder Richelieu Dennis, the new ESSENCE Ventures CEO.

Under his leadership, and in conjunction with President of ESSENCE Communications and People Michelle Ebanks, the dynamic duo unveiled a new initiative underway. And as always, the black woman was at the forefront. Dennis announced:

"Our jobs are to make sure that we continue to elevate and create opportunities that drive economic impact in our communities and for the women in our communities. As a part of that mission – about six months ago, we announced that we were launching the New Voices Fund, and I am proud to say that we get to, this weekend, officially launch."

The New Voices Fund, and it is a $100 million fund dedicated to furthering women of color entrepreneurship. As Ebanks stated, black women are the first to start businesses but are often the first to also fail. Nine times out of ten, it has everything to do with not being able to secure funding for their businesses as easily or as readily as their white counterparts. So not only is starting a business one of the hardest things you can do, if you're black and a woman, raising venture capital to ensure that your business survives can feel like an uphill battle. That's where New Voices Fund comes in.

"Over the past six months, we have either invested in or committed to over $30 million in black women entrepreneurs. We are going to leverage the businesses that we've built to generate capital to invest back into our communities. This is the first leg of that journey, of this new journey. With the ESSENCE team, with the ESSENCE platform, we have now also formed a partnership between New Voices and ESSENCE."

Ebanks added:

"This is ESSENCE today. It is a platform that will build wealth in our community and transform lives. Our culture is one of the most powerful cultures – if not the most powerful and influential culture in the world… ESSENCE is a platform that builds that wealth in the black community. This is what we're proud of and what is new and different and exciting at ESSENCE and is possible because we have your support and your partnership. This is our vision, this is our leadership."

ESSENCE is the number one media brand targeting black women and the festival is the largest gathering of black women in the world. ESSENCE has the support of long-term relationships and partnerships with Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, State Farm, Ford, My Black Is Beautiful, and of course, NOLA Tourism. Thanks to them and the continued support of the artists, sponsors, and black women wanting to be a part of the one-of-a-kind weekend experience, this year's ESSENCE Festival will be the largest in the festival's 24-year history as it expands to a footprint of 900,000 square feet. Ebanks stated:

"Of critical importance to this festival, another distinction is that this is a celebration of black women. Self-made, self-reliant, who bring a real value and zest for life here. Black women who are leaders for all women in showing that you can be an earning – top earner in your household. You can lead and launch your businesses. You can lead in corporations. You can lead in universities and colleges, so it's black women who are bringing this sense of family, this strong sense of friendship, and this sense of a cultural celebration to New Orleans. And we celebrate that black girl magic all weekend long."

That part.

For more information on the New Voices Fund and how you can support black businesses, check it out here.

Featured image by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Essence

 

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