NEW ORLEANS – For Elroy James, reigning as King Zulu really has been a dream since he was a boy. Fortunately, the young childhood friend he always hoped would be his queen remembered, and two decades later accepted his invitation to lead the parade with him on Mardi Gras.
“When I was 12, I talked to my friend, Tanyanika Phillips, about my one day reigning as King Zulu,” he explained, “I asked her if that happened would she be interested in being my queen?”
“We’ve kept in touch throughout the entire time, so that when he was elected, he gave me a call – no text message – and said ‘Congratulations, Queen Zulu,’” Phillips laughed.
The king and queen have remained friends for more than 25 years, having grown up in the same Easter New Orleans neighborhood, though Phillips has since moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Following Zulu tradition and the club’s longstanding policy, James was elected king in May. There was some controversy, however, as a fellow candidate initially contested the election. But the issue was resolved and James’ dream became reality.
James, a Zulu member for 20 years, is a tax attorney who said he always had an interest in bookkeeping and accounting. He has served as chairman of finance for the club for more than five years and served on other Zulu committees.
His queen, a Xavier Prep graduate, is an oncologist who has made cancer care and compassion a key part of this year’s Zulu platform. She said watching her patients and her own mother, a breast cancer survivor, endure the struggle with cancer, inspired her to launch a special project as Queen Zulu.
“We organized a project with the Karen E. Mumford Cancer Foundation, and were able to sponsor several women in the community who were undergoing chemotherapy, by pampering them, treating them to a spa and lunch during the Carnival season,” Phillips said.
The project is another example of the pride Zulu takes in its role as a Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a community organization rather than just a Carnival krewe.
“We are giving 34 young ladies the Zulu scholarship this year,” James said. “One of the initiatives of the President this year was to sponsor even more young people with financial aid for college, which we are proud to do.”
James himself was the first person to receive an academic scholarship from Zulu, which helped him attend college.
“We are much more than Mardi Gras,” he said of Zulu’s charitable efforts.
Both King and Queen have had a busy schedule in recent weeks, but it all comes down to Fat Tuesday. Besides hoping for beautiful weather and a safe and happy celebration, both King and Queen are also reminded of the dream of a young Elroy James some two decades ago.
“Dreams do come true, but they don’t come without hard work and some perseverance,” James said.