This past Saturday, the Krewe of Oshun became the first Mardi Gras parade to be incorporated into the North Baton Rouge area, a moment of great cultural significance for many regions of Louisiana. The month of February is regarded in Louisiana as a time period of constant celebration and festivities, though The Krewe of Oshun itself diverges from the typical European tradition of Mardi Gras. It takes its name after Oshun, a deity that is traditionally revered amongst the Yoruba and Fon ethnic groups of West Africa. As the orisha - translated as “owner of the life force” - of joy and the love of life, Oshun is often regarded as a mistress of spiritual ceremonies among those of the African diaspora.
Beyond the religious significance, the parade represents a marker of independence and community in this region, a benchmark that Krewe of Oshun board member Byron Washington recognizes. “Really it’s showing the other people that look, North Baton Rouge is not the negative,” Washingston expresses. “We are a bunch of loving, caring people that just want to have a good time.”
This event is certainly significant to the Black community of Baton Rouge, as The Advocate reports, “Not only was this the first Mardi Gras parade in this part of the city, but it may be the first organized by an African-American organization in almost 80 years. The first Zulu parade in Baton Rouge was held in 1933 in downtown Baton Rouge, according to an article published by the LSU Libraries Special Collections. There were no white Mardi Gras parades at the time.”
The parade debuted at 12:00PM in Scotlandville, going through Harding Blvd, Scenic Highway, and 72nd Avenue, passing directly in front of Southern Universty’s Baton Rouge campus. The parade was centered around the theme of “Wakanda Now: Celebration, Prosperity and Expansion”, inspired by the fictional African country featured in Marvel Comics’ Black Panther series. The event pulled admirers and involvement from all corners of Scotlandville, even featuring Southern University’s Human Jukebox.
Following the parade, a festival was held from 2:00PM-8:00PM at the Champion Medical Center, offering a full day of celebration for the local community. Musical entertainment was provided by Southern University alumnus DJ Marquis as well as various artists brought out by Bring Justice to My Rhyme, with the attendees also being entertained by comedian AOisComedy.
Attendees enjoyed a variety of food options, ranging from Jamaican delicacies to Chicagoan treats, and the very familiar Louisiana-style boiled meat. The festival was complete with entertainment for all crowds and ages, as well as the Krewe of Oshun’s own Mardi Gras Indians, giving many attendees their first Mardi Gras experience within their own community.
Many vendors lined throughout the event, representing various businesses and community initiatives. One of these organizations was the CEI Mind Foundation, represented by program director Tonya Pollard, which mission statement proclaims they serve to “build stronger more sufficient communities by providing tangible skills & solutions in (but not limited to) the areas of community & workforce development, STEAAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Agriculture & Math) & entrepreneurship.”
Tara Haney Crockett, a Southern alumna and former writer for the Southern Digest, expressed amazement with the growth of her community, “Being a person who grew up in this area, the area has truly grown. I never thought that when I would drive past 77th and looked over, that any of this would be here.”