Outside the Rex den Friday, members of the Rex and Zulu Carnival organizations handed giant checks to representatives of two New Orleans charter schools as the band from the day-care center next door ripped out a brassy song.
New Orleans is a place where a day-care center has a marching band, and Mardi Gras organizations have a serious mission to assist public education. The $5,000 donations went to Edgar Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy, across South Claiborne Avenue from the Rex den, and to Phillis Wheatley Community School, on Dumaine Street around the corner from Zulu headquarters.
“We are starting with two schools, but I truly believe we will touch many more” as the partnership between New Orleans’ premier Carnival clubs grows, said Jay Banks, King Zulu 2016.
Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Rex Organization’s Pro Bono Publico Foundation has donated more than $5.5 million to New Orleans public education.
Zulu’s philanthropic work has included its Junior Zulu mentorship program in the public schools, outreach to seniors, and holiday giveaways of food and bikes, said Zulu spokesman Clarence Becknell.
Both organizations solicit donations year-round and hold fundraisers, such as Rex’s den tour and Zulu’s golf tournament, to pay for their philanthropy.
So when Zulu president Naaman Stewart, over dinner with Rex official Christy Brown, suggested that the krewes adopt neighborhood schools, it seemed like a natural step, Brown said Friday.
“Strong education is a cornerstone of a healthy city,” Brown said. The Pro Bono Publico Foundation has supported changes that have seen many of the city’s public schools become charter schools. Those changes have resulted in higher graduation rates and better test scores, Brown said.
The extra help is welcome at Harney, most of whose 800 students live in poverty, said principal Lynn Polk.
“It can help us to get updated textbooks and web-based instructional programs” that help diagnose student progress, Polk said. “Those programs can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.”
As the hot sun bore down on krewe members in their suits and blazers, Stewart proposed that next year’s event take place at the new Zulu headquarters on North Broad Street.
“It’s air-conditioned,” he joked.