Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison walked the red carpet at the 2017 MegaFest kickoff event at Klyde Warren Park on June 28 and Hollywood actor Blair Underwood did the same for T.D. Jakes' surprise 60th birthday party on Friday. Even Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appeared.

But MegaFest is all about those who come to fellowship at the four-day family event. 

The programming, noticeably different this year than in the past, caters to attendees with empowerment sessions running throughout each day and impassioned dialogue about subjects that directly impact their lives: health, food, family and fun at the grassroots level.

Yes, 2013 may have had visits from Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Hudson and 2015 saw former NFL pro Ray Lewis lead morning workouts. The star power may seem a little dimmer, but it just allowed the people to shine through.

Here are some scenes from the festival.

Let's make a deal

Jay'den Stanton was awake most of the night preparing for his presentation to the MegaFutures panel at MegaFest.

"I got an hour of sleep last night," he said.

The inaugural competition, inspired by television competition show Shark Tank, was open to entrepreneurs from grades 6 through 12. Jay'den, 11, seemed to be made for it: The Garland resident and student at Jackson Technology Center hatched the idea for Cowboy J's Barbecue Sauce when he was only 6 years old. It went from idea to reality in a day.

"I took a lot of flavors that I love and threw it together with some barbecue sauce," he said. "I'm one of those people that if I put my mind to it, I'm going to do it as soon as I possibly can."

Right now, he sells his sauce via Instagram at @jaydenthecowboy -- "dm to order," he comments -- but he has his eye on bigger prizes. The win of $5,000 as a judges' favorite is just motivation for the young preacher and motivator who is also a member of Potter's House.

"Cowboy J's Barbecue Sauce is something that I started to build my brand," he said. "I feel like right now, in 2017, your brand and your image is what can help you develop as a young entrepreneur or just as an entrepreneur in general."

Right on time

Rev. Richard M. Thorn and his wife Denise Wilson got off to a flying start at Megafest.

"We flew all night to get here," said Wilson, while she and Rev. Thorn were searching online for tickets to the comedy show Friday night. 

The first thing they did was eat when they landed in Dallas. After that, it was all MegaFest, all the time. She went directly into Woman Thou Art Loosed, where she said T.D. Jakes preached for two hours.

He went to ManPower, where Jakes was scheduled to speak the next day.

One couldn't tell by the smiles, but put it all together, she said, and they were up for 36 hours straight. 

"We didn't get back to bed until midnight on Thursday night," said Wilson, who used to live  in Plano and once worked for Jakes' Potter's House.

Thorn, who said he teaches Sunday school at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Seattle, said they normally do Essence Fest, too, but this year they had to make a choice. The festivals were scheduled for the same weekend and cost and time were factors. 

And there was another thing.

"There's no gospel there," he said.

Heart and soul (and hair)

The stage at the center of the admission-free Mega Expo hosted performances and seminars throughout MegaFest. It was arguably the heart of the festival.

On Saturday, "long hair, does care" seemed to be the prevailing message during a session sponsored by haircare company ORS and moderated by brand representative Kudzai Mutasa.

"Beautiful hair comes in all types and not stereotypes," she said, parroting one of the company's empowerment campaigns for hair acceptance, whether it's natural, weave, relaxed or wigs.

Panelists included actress Tasha Smith (Empire), who was also involved in the International Faith & Family Film Festival, and ORS CEO Shawn Tollerson. The panelists discussed what can become the perils of hair within different professions, childhood trauma stemming from hair, self-esteem and loving your hair no matter what.

"We want to be about unity," said Tollerson. 

Message received. One young attendee was heard telling her mother that she "learned that you should keep your hair strong, faster and bigger."

Proper attire

If you were anywhere near downtown this past weekend, you may have seen more than a few women wearing a black, bat-winged shirt with rhinestones spelling out "Dare to Dream."

It was a hot-selling item in at least one of the stores inside Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. That's $30 for a shot of self-esteem and a memento of Woman Thou Art Loosed, one of the collection of festivals under the umbrella of MegaFest.

It was only Friday afternoon, but people browsing the store had an idea of what they wanted from the already diminished stock: the lavender Woman Thou Art Loosed shirt. This location was already out of stock.

But there were coffee mugs, grab bags, books and other shirts. There was also a child's gift pack for $20 that included a clear backpack in primary colors; a puzzle; a T-shirt; and a water bottle. 

The Mega fidget spinner was not included. That went for $12.

For more views, news and reviews, follow @DawnBurkes on Twitter.

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