The ESSENCE Program is a not-for-profit organization that makes information about, and resources on, the life, history, and culture of African American Louisiana accessible to partnering K-12 public schools. ESSENCE provides a forum for teachers to collaboratively produce lesson plans based on native-centered content, which aligns with Louisiana’s comprehensive curriculum for science, math, English Language Arts, and social studies. ESSENCE also supports direct instruction to students through after school and summer school programs. The mission of the ESSENCE program is two-fold. The program aims to build the cultural competency of teachers and students, especially those working in and attending Louisiana’s most underresourced K12 public schools. The program also seeks to equip students with the social, critical thinking, and communication skills needed to attain high levels of academic achievement.


ESSENCE launched in 2005 with a grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University, delivered the program’s first keynote address. Featured artists included percussionist Jason Marsalis, children’s story author Fatima Shaik, and the Mardi Grad Indians. Curators from the Amistad Research Center, the River Road African American Museum, and Hill Memorial Library presented, as did scholars Judith Shafer, Shirley Thompson, Jennifer Abraham, and Toby Daspit.