When Brent Darien Washington Sr. was a little boy growing up on Montegut Street, he didn’t think much about Zulu, one way or another.
“Zulu was just another parade to me back then,” he said.
How times have changed.
Washington, an accountant who serves as chief financial officer at Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy, eventually tuned in to the organization and became a devoted member in 1990.
Since then he has wholeheartedly supported its programming and charitable activities, serving as a member of the finance, technology, lounge and Carnival activities committees. Currently, he's chairman of the Finance Committee.
But he is also something much more this year.
“I am extremely honored to have been elected by the Zulu membership to serve as King Zulu for the 2018 Carnival season,” he said. “It is such an honor to represent the Zulu Nation to the world.”
If it took growing up to pique Washington’s interest in the Zulu organization, the same can’t be said about his queen and wife of 30 years, Troye Madison Washington, who was raised in Central City near Willow Street and Jackson Avenue.
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“I practically grew up with Zulu,” said the queen, who is assistant head of school at Lafayette Academy. “I had plenty of relatives in it, and it was active in my neighborhood. Years ago, before there was an established route for the parade, it would go from bar to bar and business to business, toasting family and sponsors. You couldn’t help but know all about it, because you got to experience it firsthand.”
There’s a reason that Her Majesty had that firsthand experience with Zulu. During the days of segregation, the group was not allowed to parade on Canal Street or to toast at Gallier Hall. So Gertrude Geddes, then a co-owner of Geddes & Moss Funeral Home, put up viewing stands for the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club in front of her business in the 2100 block of Jackson, just a few blocks from where the 2018 Zulu queen grew up.
The stands provided not only an excellent parade viewing spot but also a place to toast the queen and her maids. The tradition continued for decades, solidifying the area as central to the Zulu tradition.
On Tuesday, 1,200 riders will fill Zulu floats in a parade that begins near Jackson and Claiborne avenues, then continues to St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, then out Orleans Avenue to North Broad Street and the Zulu headquarters.
“We have 800 members, but we have 400 riders who aren’t members but love to ride,” said Brent Washington. “It’s a good time."
Troye Washington said that one float will be ridden by “Junior Zulus,” young men who have been mentored by the organization.
“Some of these young men don’t have fathers at home, and they can benefit from sustained contact with businessmen,” she explained. “They learn how to dress and carry themselves, and having a mentor makes it easier to have someone who can guide them when they require it.”
Other community-oriented works of the club include a toy giveaway and a bike giveaway.
“I challenged the members to donate money to buy the bikes,” Brent Washington said, “and ended up raising 300 bikes myself.”
There will also be floats carrying the grand marshal, movie director Spike Lee, plus the Zulu “characters.”
“There’s Mr. Big Stuff, the Big Shot, the Witch Doctor and a few more,” said King Zulu. “You could write a book about the traditions behind the characters, but the one I know best is Big Shot because that’s what I was last year. The Big Shot tries to outdo the king — to look better, wear better suits and so on. He’s the one who grants folks permission to visit with the king, and he stays close by.” John Gourrier Jr. fills the Big Shot’s shoes this year.
The queen has a corps of women and men who attend her, but that relationship isn’t competitive — it’s supportive.
“They are there to fulfill my every need and every wish,” said Troye Washington. “They get me something to drink if I feel thirsty or something to eat if I feel hungry. If I am in a meeting, they will stand outside to make sure I am not disturbed. They help me into the limousine when I have to go somewhere. I’m really going to miss it.”
Brent Washington delivered a prediction about whether the Big Shot will “outshine” him on Mardi Gras.
“He can sure try," he said with a smile, "but he will fail.”