“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” took on an entirely new meaning for me after the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
That (man?) who will never be my president managed to smuggle his way into the White House and I thought I’d wake up to realize it was all a dream. But it was still true when I opened my eyes to embark upon one of the most important (and ironic) trips of my life. I’d heard the jokes the nation made about moving to Africa if Trump became president – but I was quite literally on my way to the Motherland for ESSENCE Festival Durban when he won. Needless to say, I was excited about the opportunity, but at the same time unbelievably sad for my home and uplifting my spirits seemed an impossible task. Then, I arrived in South Africa for what ended up being a trip I’ll never forget, and not just because of the timing.
The beaches in Durban were more beautiful than any beach I’d ever been to. The food was tastier, the people were friendlier, and for a girl straight out of Harlem, it was more peaceful than I ever could have imagined. It was a euphoria I could never achieve in NYC. It was a city bursting with legends of the Zulu people, a tribal Miami of sorts, where you never stopped learning about your culture. Any thoughts I had about not being able to enjoy South Africa because of Trump’s invasion of the White House slowly, but surely, subsided.
Besides the beauty of the city, ESSENCE really brought the talent out and it all culminated into a one-of-a-kind experience that I’m glad I got to enjoy first-hand.
First off, Steve Harvey and his wife Marjorie came dressed to kill at all the ESSENCE Festival Durban functions. But as a longtime fan of Steve’s, what really put a smile on my face was when he hit ESSENCE’s Empowerment Stage to talk about his rise from nothing.
Steve shared his keys to success with the room after shouting out the entire continent of Africa. We were so tuned in, you could hear a pin drop.
Ne-Yo was also a great source of inspiration. To see him have such a positive effect outside of America was nothing short of astounding. It seems everyone who’s anyone follows his music.
After his set, he spoke to Global Grind about healing through music and more. He said of his knack for making people feel good:
“There really is no secret. It’s just positivity. There’s a lot of negativity in the world right now. There’s a lot of reasons to not smile, so I try to figure out ways to make people smile… and if that makes me, kind of the odd man out in regards to the industry, if I’m the only positive cat in the room while everybody else is negative, that just means that everybody’s looking at me. I don’t have a problem with that.”
One of my favorite moments was visiting the PheZulu Safari Park. There was tons of dancing and a tour of how the Zulu villages lived their everyday lives. We also got to see about a dozen crocodiles up close and personal.
Another memorable moment was when President Jacob Zuma and eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede honored Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s retired lead vocalist Joseph Shabalala with a certificate of appreciation. It went down at the Moses Mabhida Stadium and it was exciting to see how proud the South African concertgoers were.
One of the most rewarding experiences was visiting Inanda Seminary, a secondary school in a township near Durban. Nothing beat hanging out with Seneme (middle) and her friends, hearing about their big dreams, and learning how a few determined minds made it possible for so many South African girls to get an education. These ladies are on their way to becoming photojournalists, financial auditors, athletes, and more!
All in all, heading to South Africa and being doused in so much love was just what I needed at the moment. Regardless of what was going on back at home, I felt a kinship that reminded me nothing could break our people.
This is a trip you definitely want to make at some point in your lifetime, but before you start planning your getaway, check out a clip of Ne-Yo’s set below: