In 2004, when the American Red Cross first participated as a sponsor at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, resident Tina Wilson stopped by the Red Cross exhibit for information on disaster preparedness. She also picked up three mini flashlights, keeping one for herself and giving one to her brother and the third to a good friend.
A year later, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, Wilson’s friend found himself stranded inside the Morial Convention Center (where part of the Festival is held) for several days. He told Wilson later that his mini Red Cross flashlight was the only light available to him during that time.
The Red Cross promoted the new Be Red Cross Ready campaign at the Essence Music Festival in July.
(Photo Credit: Jole Simmons)
“He was in one of the suites with a bunch of other people, and that light was all they had,” said Wilson. “When he told me that after the storm I just couldn’t believe it.”
Wilson's flashlight is no longer working, but she still carries it on her keychain.
“It’s out, but I still keep it,” she said. “It has sentimental value and it reminds me that the Red Cross was there.”
Empowerment and Education
Earlier this month, the Essence Music Festival returned to New Orleans for the first time since Katrina, and Tina Wilson was just one of hundreds who visited the Red Cross exhibit inside the Convention Center. The exhibit featured the “Be Red Cross Ready” campaign and offered visitors an opportunity to gauge their own level of disaster preparedness with an online Readiness Test.
The campaign and test are in keeping with the festival’s focus on personal development. Each year, the festival includes a variety of free empowerment seminars and educational exhibits, all of which are open to the public free of charge during the day.
New Orleans resident Joan Brown was one of many people who stopped by the Red Cross exhibit to express thanks for the support she received after Katrina. Brown evacuated to Baton Rouge just before the storm and lived there for nearly a year before she was able to return home.
“I was drawn over to give everyone a hug and say thank you,” said Brown, “because I will never forget the comfort those smiling faces brought to me and my family after the storm. Those people were true champions.”
Visitors to the Red Cross booth at the Essence Music Festival entered to win autographed items from celebrity supporter Wyclef Jean.
(Photo Credit: Jole Simmons)
In addition to the Red Cross and other public service groups, several corporations sponsored the festival and promoted their products and services to the thousands of attendees. One sponsor graciously donated nearly 20,000 bottles of cocoa butter lotion (valued at $80,000) to the Red Cross Southeast Louisiana Chapter.
Each night the festival moved to the Superdome, where musicians such as Chris Brown, Beyonce, the Isley Brothers and Angie Stone performed concerts. The Red Cross exhibit featured its own musical guest, Wyclef Jean, who appears in a public service announcement that was aired during concerts breaks. Jean is a member of the American Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet.
Some famous visitors to the Red Cross exhibit included New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and motivational speaker and author Iyanla Vansant.
The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.