- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A new face will be among those counseling Essence Festival participants as part of the festival’s empowerment experience.

Spiritual and self-help expert Deepak Chopra, for the first time, joins the festival’s daytime lineup which also includes appearances by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Iyanla Vanzant, Sybrina Fulton and Shaun T over the July 4 holiday weekend.

Admission inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the seminars, which open Thursday and run through Sunday, is free.

“His presence makes perfect sense,” said Essence Editor-in-Chief Vanessa De Luca. “Spirituality has always resonated for our audience. Developing the programming slate for this year’s experience we looked at adding more wellness and spiritual offerings. And Dr. Chopra is certainly one of those thought leaders we looked to include.”

Mr. Chopra is the author of 80 books and renowned globally for his expertise in reflection, meditation, wellness and spirituality, and putting him in front of the festival audience was a phenomenal get for event organizers, Ms. De Luca said. “Why not have the benefit of his expertise and leadership at the festival?” she asked.

The daytime experience is only part of the festival, which also has nightly, ticketed performances inside the Superdome. Kicking off those events will be comedian Kevin Hart on Thursday with Christian rapper LeCrae and R&B heartthrob Trey Songz.

On Friday, Frankie Beverly and Maze returns to the festival after a 5-year absence along with performances by Charlie Wilson, India.Arie and Kem.

On Saturday, Usher will headline the 4th of July along with Missy Elliott, Erykah Badu and Common and on Sunday, Mary J. Blige, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Floetry and rapper Kendrick Lamar, who’s making his festival debut, will close out the four-day event.

The festival was initially conceived by former editor Susan Taylor as a one-time celebration marking the magazine’s 25th anniversary.

Twenty-one years later, it’s grown into an annual destination attraction and boon for the City of New Orleans, last year drawing more than 550,000 participants. The festival’s estimated annual economic impact exceeds $200 million, organizers have said.

Mr. Chopra is scheduled to appear Saturday and will discuss Peace is a Lifestyle, a new initiative he’s promoting to help with conflict resolution, especially in urban arenas.

Ms. De Luca said the weekend sessions also will cover issues of race and reconciliation, entrepreneurship, health and wellness, relationships, single mothers raising sons and how to triumph over tragedy.

“We have an embarrassment of riches this year,” she said. “It’s what our community needs right now and it’s right and appropriate for Essence to utilize this platform to invite thought leaders in our community to share and give us takeaways and challenge us and help us sort through all of this and keep us focused on solutions.

“We’re going to have a lot of rich, robust conversations during the empowerment experience.”

Mr. Chopra said he’s excited about the opportunity to address the crowd. “There’s going to be lots of fun and music,” he said, with a laugh. “We will fit in somehow.”

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