Gina Charbonnet has been the woman behind some of the most prolific activations at Essence Music Festival. The festival which runs from July 5-8, is also one of the largest entertainment gatherings for us by us, and is a primetime opportunity to “party with a purpose,” Charbonnet said.
Charbonnet is the owner of GeChar Inc., a multidimensional creative company which brings insightful, thought-provoking speakers to the stage as part of Essence Festival’s Empowerment Experience. Since 1999, Charbonnet has been a central figure in planning the dynamic event. For Charbonnet, New Orleans is home.
“A big part of me is New Orleans,” Charbonnet said. “I’m from here and I get a chance to work on such an amazing event with a really amazing brand.”
This year’s event will produce a variety of roundtable talks and panels from personal branding and financial literacy to reinvention.
The Empowerment Experience is also about “nurturing, self-care and fulfilling your passion,” Charbonnet said. Speakers like Mona Scott Young, Lena Waithe, Angela Rye, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Sybrina Fulton, DeRay Mckesson and Marvin Sapp and not to mention staples like Iyanla Vanzant will all be invited speakers at this year’s festival.
“It’s always been about how we can enrich our audience through different sort of tracks,” she continued. “I think everything we’ve been talking about is advocacy. It’s all about the advocacy,” Charbonnet says.
Spirituality is also crucial to the Empowerment Experience and the activation ends each year with a gospel tribute. Gospel singer Marvin Sapp will be this year’s special guest.
“It’s really about this well-rounded perspective that feeds your soul,” she says.
For Charbonnet spirituality is deeply intertwined in her roots. The New Orleans native spent much time in communion with her family under the roof of the Charbonnet-Labat-Glapion Funeral Home, one of the oldest Black owned funeral homes in the country.
“My father worked in the Charbonnet funeral home and I grew up in the funeral home business here,” she said. “I have to say yes, that did mold me to really be aware of what entrepreneurship is and what it takes to be an entrepreneur and what it means to work in the community and be a company that serves.”
But Charbonnet’s path to her successful business actually began in a totally different spectrum. Her creative journey morphed from visual art to film and journalism. She says her biggest inspiration is her mother who died when she was seven years old.
Before she died, she created DeChar Creations, becoming a first time business owner at 47-years-old. GeChar Inc. is a tribute to her mother’s legacy.
This year’s Empowerment Experience is a culmination of planning which takes place 10 months in advance. A team mentality is what keeps Charbonnet grounded during the days of the festival which can turn easily morph into a grueling 12-16 hour work day.
“You have to leave your ego at the door. There’s no ego here. It’s really about–we’re a team making it work. And that’s the most important thing,” she said.
Even though the work days can be long, Charbonnet said she plans to take it all in and is looking forward to a few special guests, especially Lena Waithe.
“Who she is as a person and what she represents to so many people and the space she’s occupying right now is incredible. I’m excited, the work she’s doing and how outspoken she is, I’m excited!” Charbonnet said.
As far as any advice on how to navigate the festival grounds and still maintain your fly, Charbonnet said she has some pointers. She recommends festival goers bring two pairs of sneakers and watermelon water to keep yourself hydrated, but there’s one more important piece to the fashion puzzle.
“I think every girl should have a fly ass hat to put on!” Charbonnet said.