As African American business owners and leaders in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, my wife Naimah and I were invited to participate at the first convening of Forward Cities in New Orleans in December of 2014. Since then we have been with Forward Cities in Detroit and, just recently, in Cleveland. Being a part of Forward Cities has been an eye opening experience since it has provided us the opportunity to learn from efforts, in New Orleans and the other participating cities, to include and connect minority small businesses like ours to other community partners and anchor institutions that can support and create change in our neighborhoods. The chance to build a network of forward thinkers and to connect with leaders and innovative business owners from across the country has been invaluable. This experience has given us the courage to forge ahead in our business and to continue our thought process for being change-agents to improve the growth of the urban and cultural economy in New Orleans.
Being a Chief in the Mardi Gras Indian Yellow Pocahontas Indian tribe it was clear to me that after Katrina, New Orleans should call upon the leaders of this great cultural tradition to be ambassadors of the city and represent the city's great legacy. Unfortunately, the Mardi Gras Indian chiefs were not called upon by our city's business or political leaders, nor were we treated as essential components of the city's recovery or its economic development strategy. Furthermore, the splendor, beauty and mystique of New Orleans' Mardi Gras Indians are always used in tourist brochures, newspapers and commercial ads, to lure tourists and investors alike to the city. Yet once these tourists and out of town visitors arrive, they are not intentionally referred to, or encouraged to support, minority owned businesses or businesses operating in low income neighborhoods. Hence, the question that we all must ask: why not?
This is why Naimah and I created the Golden Feather Mardi Gras Indian Restaurant & Gallery. Located right in front of Louis Armstrong Park's historic Congo Square, we are a minority owned and operated business and a change-agent in our own neighborhood of Treme, and we are an important part the city's cultural economy, bringing thousands of visitors each year for the Golden Feather’s lunch and lectures, gallery and gift shop. But we have had to do this all on our own. Traveling with Forward Cities, to meet leaders in places like Detroit and Cleveland, has made us realize that New Orleans needs to develop more support organizations and programs to help local minority entrepreneurs and small owned businesses like ours. We also need more local funders and City Hall to pay more attention to our needs and challenges. If New Orleans wants to maintain its "heart and soul" downtown, it better pay attention to the role leaders like the Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs are playing in our neighborhoods.
Our most recent venture is a musical touring production called “Voices of Congo Square” which uses beautiful handcrafted costumes, music, song and dance in a vibrant enactment of the lectures held at the Golden Feather on the origins and history of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians. This epic tale shows the unique culture and dances of the indigenous people of New Orleans, and all those who arrived from Africa, Haiti and other Caribbean Islands, to shape the current day Black Carnival Traditions of New Orleans. Thanks to our experience with Forward Cities, we have made some great contacts and hope to bring this high-energy musical and historical production to Cleveland, Detroit and Durham in the near future.
Watch a short (2 minute) promotion film below of "Voices of Congo Square". You can contact Chief Shaka Zulu and Naimah Zulu at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.