I feel like Dorothy Gale as I head down N. Broad Street on my way to see what remains a mystery for many New Orleanians – the inside of the headquarters of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. The gold-colored building is my yellow brick road but instead of the Wizard of Oz, it’s the King I’m off to see. Zulu is the only Carnival organization that elects their King through popular election — which involves heavy campaigning and some instances of good-natured bribery via booze and barbecue – putting the monarch in high esteem among members.
I arrive to the front door and soon I’m let in by a stoic man who, after looking both ways down the street, regards me suspiciously before letting me inside. Inside the clubhouse I take in the framed photos of opulently dressed Zulu royalty that decorate the walls while men at the bar banter as a syndicated episode of “Law and Order” plays in the background. The dark clubhouse has a lair-like quality, but when the tall, sharply dressed, affable 2014 Zulu King Garren Mims Sr. walks in the door, the room brightens.
For Mims, participation in Zulu is a family affair. He was introduced to the organization by a family member, his wife Georgette – with whom he’s celebrating a 20-year anniversary
– shares the throne as the parade’s Queen and his three children have positions on the court.
This year, the krewe honors the activist and former South African president with the theme “Zulu Salutes Nelson Mandela.” Carnival enthusiasts make sure to rise early to catch the 8 a.m. parade and to nab one of those coveted hand-painted coconuts (though those still recovering from Lundi Gras reveling might be able to catch the procession on the Uptown route, where the parade tends to slow down a bit).
On March 3 Zulu hosts its annual Lundi Gras Festival, an all-day event at Woldenberg Park featuring food; live music from Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers, Rebirth Brass Band, Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys and others; and a chance to see the King’s court and its “characters” – the Witch Doctor, Ambassador, Mayor, Province Prince and the Big Shot, who always tries to upstage the King.
Zulu’s Lundi Gras festivities culminate in a special tradition involving the Rex organization. After the King of Carnival completes his royal duties by proclaiming the Fat Tuesday a holiday and a fireworks display begins, he receives a special visitor. The Zulu King arrives by boat, along with his entourage, who trek to the Riverwalk stage to greet Rex. The two monarchs shake hands, exchange proclamations and toss baubles to the crowd.
But today, when I arrive to Zulu headquarters, it’s only a day after this particularly long Carnival season has begun, and Mims has a lot to look forward to about the upcoming months.
How did you get involved with the Zulu organization? I got involved in Zulu through my first cousin (Kenneth Mims Sr.). He was like an uncle to me. He asked me to join the club. In order to come into Zulu a member has to submit your application, so he submitted my application. We used to ride with the Big Shot Krewe. With him, I started volunteering with the club, and through my volunteering I became an officer. I’ve been an officer for over 15 years in the club. We do a lot of volunteering with the community, and also with making our club better. I’ve been assistant chairman of finance, treasurer, and I’m currently assistant treasurer.
Why did you decide to run for King? I guess it’s a dream for anyone when you become a member of Zulu to become King. I’ve been a member of Zulu for over 19 years. I guess because of my volunteering and service to the club, the members selected me as King. And it’s an honor.
Other things you like about being involved in Zulu? As far our Carnival seasons, it’s a real nice time of the year, as far as all the different krewes. Around the Mardi Gras season, that’s when everyone finally gets together after preparing for the whole year, starting off with the picnic, then everyone has their own separate balls, and that’s very nice as far as the Mardi Gras season goes. And of course there’s our Coronation Ball* for all our members.
What are your favorite Carnival traditions outside Zulu? I live in Algiers and we live close to the parade route, so we go to some of the parades in the Algiers area. NOMTOC, those parades.
What are some of the other things you’re looking forward to about the Carnival season? To say you’re going to be the first float to come down the street Mardi Gras day, that’s an honor. I’m looking forward to having a toast at Gallier Hall, and toasting to the mayor. We toast at Dooky Chase also, and I’m looking forward to that.
True confession: One time I had seasickness on a fishing trip and I did not tell my family.
At a Glance
Age: 47 Profession: Pro gram monitor for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and real estate agent Born/raised: Uptown Resides: Algier s Family: wife, Georgette; children, Garren Jr., Gabriel and G abrielle EDUCATION: McDonogh 35 and Southern University Favorite movie: John Q Favorite TV shows: “The Haves and the Have No ts,” “Duck Dynasty” Favorite band: Maze Featuring Fran kie Beverly Favorite food: Gumbo Favorite restaurant: Drago’s Favorite hobby: J ogging Favorite vacation spot: Miami and Sandest in
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly named the Coronation Ball. We apologize for this error.