Simmons said he's thankful for being able to positively inspire his fans.
"My message is always that it doesn't matter where you come from, go for whatever it is you want to do," he said. "Don't let life or distractions get in your way. Don't fall for peer pressure. Be yourself, be the person you want to be. The best thing you can ever do is bring what you want to the table."
Ebanks said young people from throughout the New Orleans area and beyond will participate in a program that will include presentations from community leaders including Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his wife, Cheryl.
Landrieu has started a mentoring project called "Saving Our Sons," to help curb crime and violence in the city while Cheryl Landrieu's "Girl Up NOLA" seeks to inspire and motivate young girls.
"The mayor and first lady are calling upon the community to invest in the lives of our young men and woman and these projects are the centerpiece of the program," she said.
The Roots Crusader Marching Band, which will appear in the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade, also will be featured at Essence.
The band is an offshoot of the Roots of Music, a non-profit group that provides free music education, tutoring and mentorship for children ages 9-14. The group was founded in 2007 by Derrick Tabb, drummer for the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band, and has notable supporters such as Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Raphael Saddiq, Ani DiFranco, actor Tim Robbins and producer David Simon.
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