Jay H. Banks is attracted to Zulu and Carnival in general for the reasons that don’t get as much press as the golden coconuts and revelry: he loves tradition, family and bettering communities. Like many past Zulu kings, Banks has deep local ties. The Uptown native’s mother was one of the first black graduates of Tulane University; his father was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King; and his godfather is the reverend A.L. Davis Jr. Banks served as chief of staff for City Council presidents Dorothy Mae Taylor and Jim Singleton. Currently, he’s at the Dryades YMCA heading up a program that trains locals to work in the city’s booming medical field. Despite all his public work and penchant for a night of playing cards at the Zulu club, Banks says he’s a homebody who loves a good book.
Q: What are some of the things you like about Zulu? What were you attracted to about the organization? The interesting part about Zulu is that most people know about the fun stuff, but my whole life has been about trying to help people and trying to make this community better. And the discovery that I made is that in Zulu, social aid is as real as pleasure. The stuff that Zulu does in the community was the major attraction for me. I think that what we do in the community is far more important than what we do on Mardi Gras Day. Now, we’re known worldwide for the Mardi Gras Day stuff. But the magic about Zulu is that what we do in the community isn’t done for the glory, it’s done for the good. So we have all the glory with the fun and parading, but the good that we do is done for the community – that’s the part that’s magic to me.
Q: Tell me about what you do with YMCA. I am the director of the School of Commerce … We have a nationally accredited, state certified, practical nursing program, which has an excellent passing rate on the licensing exam and a 100 percent employment rate for our students who are successful on the exam.
Since Katrina, there’s definitely a lack of trained medical personnel in this region, and then when you multiply that by the new BioMedical research facility and all the new hospitals coming on line, there’s a tremendous amount of employment opportunity for trained individuals. And we want to marry those opportunities with the people that need them the most, people who are already here.
Q: What are some of the things you like to do during Carnival, besides Zulu? I live right off of St. Charles, and one of the joys I have of Mardi Gras is sitting on my front porch watching parade go up and down my street. I love engaging with people as they go to and from the parades. We decorate my house with Mardi Gras beads, and oftentimes you’ll find me standing out at my gate, wearing something with Zulu, talking about Zulu, and if the right conversation happens, some lucky paradegoer or someone who’s leaving the parade will end up with a coconut.
I was born here; I’m immersed in Mardi Gras. After Katrina I did an interview in Texas asking me about Mardi Gras and all the craziness that goes on, and one of the things foreigners don’t understand is, for New Orleanians Mardi Gras is a family celebration. All of that drunken debauchery you see going on in the French Quarter, that ain’t nobody from New Orleans. I will guarantee you, you ain’t gonna find one New Orleanian who has taken their clothes off for a pair of beads.
Growing up we watched parades at the corner of 6th and St. Charles. One of the first independent acts my mother allowed me to do was walk from my family’s spot down to where my wife’s family was, at Euterpe and St. Charles, on Mardi Gras Day. My wife and I started dating when I was 13 and she was 12. It was amazing to me that some of those families that were there at 6th and St. Charles when I was a child, they have great-great-grandchildren there now.
There’s a ritual I have every Mardi Gras: After the parades, we go to my cousin’s house. I got a thing about hot dogs, so I gotta go by them on Mardi Gras Day. Don’t care where I am or what role I’ve had, I go there Mardi Gras Day to get my hot dog. And this year I’ll be going in the limousine, so we’re very excited about that.
Age: 55 Profession: Director, Dryades YMCA School of Commerce Born/raised: Uptown New Orleans Resides: Uptown Family: Wife, Artelia; kids Ryan and Garland; grandchild, Dakota; parents, Gloria Bryant-Banks and the late J. Herbert Banks III Education: H. W. Allen, McMain, Dillard University and Springfield College Favorite movies: The Godfather; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Kill Bill Favorite TV shows: “The Boondocks”; “American Pickers”; “The Tonight Show”; “60 Minutes” Favorite bands: Al Green; Robert Cray; Leon Bridges; James Rivers Movement Favorite food: Lobster Favorite New Orleans restaurants: “That’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child.” Favorite hobby: Cooking Favorite vacation spot: San Francisco
I’m a person who collects antique watches and loves to grow orchids. I’m very involved in politics and I’m a knock-down, drag-out type of politician, but I have a softer, gentler side most people would not believe even exists.