Outside the house that serves as the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club headquarters in the 1800 block of Elysian Fields Avenue, a crowd of about 200 milled with nervous energy at midday Sunday, awaiting the kickoff of the group’s annual Mother’s Day Parade.
At 1 p.m. came a single drum beat followed by a blast of horns.
A gaggle of children in dapper lavender outfits snaked out of the house to a brassy groove, while men bedecked in orange and blue feathers strutted down the stairs and into the street.
The rain almost immediately began to fall in torrents, but few in the crowd ran for cover. Instead, they danced, grinned and snapped cellphone pictures of the vibrant display until they were soaked to the bone.
After 30 minutes or so, the rain ended and both paraders and spectators could begin to dry out.
A year after 19 people were shot in a brazen, allegedly gang-related attack during the annual Mother’s Day second-line procession, revelers proceeded through the 7th Ward on Sunday with no casualties except for water-logged regalia and the occasional spilled beer.
“If you love it, you got to come out and support it,” said Maxine “Big Mac” Broadway, a member of the Second Line Steppers, one of the groups who participated in the parade.
Broadway said that even though last year’s violence was troubling, it wasn’t going to stop her and others from coming out this year.
Members of her nine-person krewe agreed.
“As long as bullets aren’t flying, we’ll have a great time,” said C.J. Joseph, president of the group.
Despite a violent weekend in which New Orleans police reported eight separate shootings between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, there were no reports of gunfire near the parade.
Police presence was thick all along the route of the meandering procession, which took five hours to complete and included stops at a number of neighborhood watering holes.
As the parade marched down St. Bernard Avenue and under the elevated Claiborne Avenue expressway, at least a half dozen police SUVs could be seen. Officers were also visible at North Villere and Frenchmen streets, the site of last year’s shooting.
According to police, Akein Scott and his brother, Shawn Scott, unloaded a barrage of bullets into a crowd last year in an attempt to snuff out a rival gang member. The Scotts, along with alleged accomplices, were arrested days after the incident.
In March, they were indicted, along with seven others, on federal drugs and weapons charges. The indictment says the brothers shot up last year’s parade “in furtherance of that drug conspiracy.”
The horrific memories of last year’s parade did little to quell the enthusiasm of those participating in this year’s event.
“It’s just been a beautiful day,” Jody Henry said as she perched in the back seat of a canary-yellow Corvette.
Henry, who is vice president of the Junior Steppers, said she’s been second-lining since 1983.
She said she and other members of her group felt a commitment to attending this year’s event and ensuring it stayed peaceful.
“We wanted to show people that this is a nonviolent parade,” she said.
The parade was composed of a hodgepodge of social clubs, krewes and marching bands. Some in the procession tossed beads and other throws, while others simply waved to onlookers.
Andre Sims, a 17-year-old drummer for the 21st Century Brass Band, said he was just a block away last year when the gunmen began shooting. Even so, he said, the possibility of violence didn’t deter him and his bandmates from performing in this year’s parade.
As vendors along the route sold beer, water and a colorful assemblage of items ranging from snowballs to “7th Ward” bracelets, participants characterized the day as an example of the city’s resilience and passion.
“We’re doing this for all the mothers, to show them they’re important,” said Gerald Nickelson, who held a sign for one of the krewes.
“This is New Orleans, and there’s no other tradition like this,” he said.