I am going to really embarrass myself here and admit that I have never been to New Orleans. What??? I know! I live so close and yet, I have never made it to party on Bourbon Street, eat beignets or hang out in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. One of these days I’m sure that I will because, if for no other reason, I hear the food is FABULOUS!
As this year’s Mardi Gras approached I noticed a series of posts on my friend Rhonda Goode – Douglas’ Facebook page that piqued my interest. Here is where I tell you that I know nothing about Mardis Gras. Nothing! I thought is was just a big party, but she educated me on what really was happening and it is very cool.
Also, I think I should tell you how Rhonda and I met. It’s actually quite sweet. You see, Rhonda and I share the love of the same young man. No, we are not cougars. Rhonda is my oldest son’s step-mother. I’d say that worked out pretty well for all of us. Here’s Rhonda in her own words.
February 8, 2015, was a historic day in New Orleans history. The Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale (MKFF) took its inaugural ride down the New Orleans city streets. The krewe is the first of its kind. It is a carnival krewe consisting of predominately African American women. The krewe is made up of women from various professions all with the same goals. The mission of MKFF is to offer women of all creeds and colors a unique opportunity to promote and support New Orleans cultural landscape through participation in the annual Mardi Gras season, while uplifting the community through various endeavors of engagement, awareness and social enhancement in order to further the growth of the organization.
Like most things in New Orleans history, Mardi Gras is an event that is rich in tradition. It is also a celebration that is also rich in racial inequality. In the late 1800’s, the flambeaux carrier served as the way the parades were lit. The flambeaux carriers were originally slaves and free men of color parading, twirling and dancing around in robes. They carried kerosene lanterns in order to light the way for the parade. As they walked in the parade, crowds tossed coins to them. The flambeaux carrier is a tradition that still exists today.
In 1856, the oldest carnival krewe was formed. The Mystic Krewe of Comus was a secret society to observe Mardi Gras with a formal parade. In 1916, the Krewe of Zulu was incorporated and was made up of a group of black laborers. In 1949, Louis Armstrong served as King Zulu. Although the Krewe of Zulu has remained strong throughout the years, there were many challenges that the Krewe had to survive. Initially, because of segregation laws, the Krewe was unable to use the same streets as the majority carnival krewes. Thus, the Krewe paraded down the back streets in the black neighborhoods. This year as in the past several years, the Krewe of Zulu paraded proudly with all of its pageantry as the first parade on Mardi Gras day in New Orleans! For many years, the Krewe of Zulu was the only opportunity for African American’s to participate in carnival as a float rider.
In 1991 the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance that required social organizations, including Mardi Gras Krewes, to certify publicly that they did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, to obtain parade permits and other public licenses. Shortly after the law was passed, the city demanded that these krewes provide them with membership lists, contrary to the long-standing traditions of secrecy and the distinctly private nature of these groups. In protest and because the city claimed the parade gave it jurisdiction to demand otherwise-private membership lists the 19th-century krewes of Comus and Momus stopped parading. Several organizations brought suit against the city, challenging the law as unconstitutional. Two federal courts later declared that the ordinance was an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights of free association, and an unwarranted intrusion on the privacy of the groups subject to the ordinance. The US Supreme Court refused to hear the city’s appeal from this decision. Today, New Orleans krewes operate under a business structure; membership is open to anyone who pays dues, and any member can have a place on a parade float.
In 2013, Gwendolyn Rainey had a vision. She dreamed of creating a female version of the Krewe of Zulu. But instead of parading on the back streets in the black neighborhoods, this parade would parade down the traditional route with all of the other parades. Gwen applied for a parade permit from the city of New Orleans with little expectation of receiving the permit. Surprisingly, the krewe was granted a permit to parade during the 2015 Carnival season. Gwendolyn had less than a year to organize a krewe in order to fullfill her dream. February 8, 2015, the Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale was born. The parade boasted fourteen floats with over 300 riders. I am happy to say that I was one of those riders. Words cannot express how excited and happy I was on that day. The entire experience was wonderful. It was so exciting to see the parade goers who waited around to see what MKFF was all about! The best part of the experience was the ability to make contact with the little children along the parade route who were so excited to receive a special throw from me. Many of these children are ignored during other parades. The ability to shower toys, and beads to these children was indescrible! I am already looking forward to my ride next year and a bigger and better MKFF! For those of you who have never experience Carnival in New Orleans, I invite you to come and enjoy one of New Orleans oldest and richest tradition. If you see me in the parade, don’t forget to yell “throw me sumthin sista!”
After graduating from Tulane Law School, Rhonda moved to the city of Chicago to prosecute crimes. While living in Chicago, Rhonda joined the Lambda Mu Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Rhonda also met and married the love of her life, Terry Douglas. As most NOLA girls do, Rhonda was able to convince her husband to take a job in New Orleans and they moved back home. They have been in New Orleans ever since.
After returning home, Rhonda achieved her goal of becoming a prosecutor in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. She has served the citizens of Orleans Parish for almost 11 years. In 2013, Rhonda was proudly awarded the Outstanding Prosecutor Award by the Citizens and Victims Against Crime for her tireless work on behalf of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. Rhonda is a member of the National Black Prosecutors Association as well as the Louisiana State Bar Association. Rhonda is currently the Social and Welfare Chair of the Omicron Lambda Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. She also serves on the Membership, Undergraduate Advisory Council, Cotillion, Standards, and Program Committees of OLQ. Rhonda is also a member of the New Orleans Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc where she serves as Co-Program Director. She also serves on the Membership and Fundraising committees of Jack and Jill.
Rhonda’s most important accomplishment is being mommy to seven year old Reese and twenty- four – year old Colin.