The annual New Orleans Mardi Gras is known throughout the world. Many nations and cultures celebrate the period before Ash Wednesday and Lent as "Carnival" and culture-rich New Orleans has the distinction of calling it Mardi Gras; no place on Earth can match the total community effort that is put into the celebration. At the New Orleans airport, you see foreigners coming in and hear languages of various types; airline employees flock to the city with their free tickets ready for anything goes.
One of the most important things about the Mardi Gras is that it is very much a Black culture event with local Whites, et al, joining in. The costumes, make-up, dances and participants of the numerous parades are Black oriented and the people are doing what their forefathers have been doing for decades. The celebration is a sign of vibrancy. It tells the world "We are healthy, happy and thank God for a good life."
Last year was quite challenging. Mardi Gras was at about 50 percent capacity, speaking to the despair and enormity of the tragedy. This year was a total success. More than 700,000 participated in the events that went off without a hitch. Mardi Gras is back to normal and the hotels and restaurants, which were enjoying 90 percent-plus occupancy, were doing their part in rejuvenating the New Orleans economy. A monumental tragedy was not enough to crush the spirit of New Orleans. Mardi Gras lives and so does New Orleans despite a pitiful federal government response. Despite the blatant corruption at the top end and the incompetence shown by tax-paid bureaucrats, the people and the culture thrive.
We at the National Black Chamber of Commerce have been totally focused on the recovery of the Gulf. Personally, my wife and I have become so attached to New Orleans that many believe we have permanently moved there. Our passion and involvement in every aspect of the rebuilding is almost fanatical. We can't help it. It has become our mission to make New Orleans one of the greatest cities in the nation.
The Zulu Parade is one of two on "Fat Tuesday." Participants usually celebrate beginning at sundown on Monday. The dinner, dancing, toasting will last until about 2 a.m. By 8 a.m. the parade kicks off with Mayor Ray Nagin riding on a magnificent horse. As the float turns the corner to join in the parade, you see these vibrant and joyous citizens welcoming the floats through the many neighborhoods of New Orleans — middle class, working class, public housing, commercial — it was all the same. It was America at its finest.
After the parade, I reflected on the experience. These people, proud and deep in culture, cannot be defeated. It is their legacy and resilience that will make them endure. Fat Tuesday was a day of love and celebration. Not one negative word was uttered. It is documented that not one crime was reported.
God is not going to let New Orleans die. As God as my witness, I love this city!
Harry C. Alford is co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.