As a young girl growing up four blocks from New Orleans’ St. Charles Avenue, Zenia Smith had no idea the whole world didn’t celebrate Mardi Gras; she didn’t know then that even a dozen miles away in New Orleans East, streets weren’t loud with merrymaking. When she moved there as an adult, she realized she had the experience to bring the revelry of her childhood to her new neighborhood—she had worked as a float lieutenant, had marched in marching bands, reigned as queen of a parade once, and even worked the security detail as part of her job as a sergeant in the New Orleans Police Department.
So in 2018, Smith founded the Krewe of Nefertiti, an all-female, community-service-oriented krewe, and this year decided to roll a parade—with two hundred riders on twenty floats—down Lake Forest and Read Boulevards in New Orleans East on February 9, bringing Mardi Gras to a neighborhood that hasn’t seen its own parade in three decades. The krewe takes its name from the Egyptian queen of antiquity who, according to hieroglyphics, was seen as equal to her husband, the pharaoh Akhenaten. (It’s thought that she may have even ruled as pharaoh after his death.)
“So many women love Mardi Gras,” Smith says. “I want every little girl to see this parade of strong women living their dreams.” Throughout Mardi Gras season, Nefertiti krewe members, or Jewels, as Smith calls them, work with organizations such as the Beautiful Foundation, Girls on the Run, and the local mentorship program the Pink House. “There’s a whole lot of pride in New Orleans and this neighborhood in particular,” she says. “Everyone deserves a little piece of Mardi Gras.”