I said burr!

It’s cold in here.

There must be some Black Joy in the atmosphere!

Alright, let’s chill with the “Bring It On” vibes. 2021 is already looking to be a wild card type of year. But a pandemic and a rare winter snowstorm couldn’t shut down the spirit of one of the South’s most praised traditions – Mardi Gras.

I’ve admired the pageantry of the annual Carnival celebration since I was a child: from the beads, the constant parades, the bands and dancing. While New Orleans’ festivities are known worldwide, Mobile, Ala., actually held the first celebration in 1703, 15 years before New Orleans was founded.

So before we dive into what Mardi Gras looked like this year, let’s take a moment to absorb the nostalgia of pre-pandemic times by watching some clips of last year’s Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile.

Ok, now we can give a shout out to the folks west of the Alabama border.

“Mardi Gras for one”

After chatting with two New Orleans’ natives this week, I am convinced the vibrant and jubilant purple, gold and green spirit of Mardi Gras lives on in every person who cherishes the tradition no matter the circumstances.

Parades shut down? No problem. Southerners turned their porches into extravagant “house floats.” Snowstorm coming? Ok! Let’s throw some beads on those wheels and make some snow tires (Warning: Not sure how well it worked out for those folks.)

Joseph Lymous, known as Jomiray on social media, is New Orleans-born Black, queer artist who uses comedy as a form of self liberation. While he now lives in Brooklyn, he takes the spirit of  New Orleans with him wherever he goes.

This year, he encouraged folks to spread the Mardi Gras tradition no matter where they live in a video titled “Mardi Gars For One” which was produced by Kevin Gillingham under the art direction of Marcie Mars.

Lymous showed off his fancy footwork throughout New York City as he danced to the legendary Rebirth Brass Band. His car was transformed into an extravagant float embellished with the words “Joy is yours” and flower puppets made by Lymous’ partner and puppeteer Jon Riddleberger.

“Mardi Gras FOR ONE” asserts that you can be your own parade wherever you are,” Lymous said in his post. “It celebrates joy being yours to possess.”

“Another proud New Orleans native Mignon Francois has become known for turning $5 into the multi million-dollar bakery the Cupcake Collection, which has locations in Nashville and the Crescent City. But her bakery has also become known as the hot spot for king cake over the past few years after she partnered with Antione’s Famous Cakes and Pastries in New Orleans.

A second line of flavors dances in customers’ mouths as Francois introduces Music City natives to the king cake craze. Her bakery makes multiple trips between New Orleans and Nashville to make sure her customers get their hands on the freshly made delight. Originally, Francois thought they wouldn’t sell as many king cakes this year due to the party-cancelling pandemic. But no. People made their orders early. Customers wanted more king cakes so they could give the treats to their neighbors as gifts.

Now, that’s sweet (Literally).

While the parades were halted this year, Francois wanted to keep the New Orleans spirit alive by adorning the bakery’s fence with colorful Mardi Gras beads and making her own king cake-inspired cupcakes.

“We wanted to issue a statement that Mardi Gras is not canceled because Mardi Gras is a way of life. It’s not just a thing that happens one time of the year,” Francois said. “What I love about the people in New Orleans is they will always find a reason to celebrate. That’s what the Cupcake Collection is all about: finding a reason to celebrate.”

New Orleans native Mignon Francois shows off her Mardi Gras spirit in front of the Cupcake Collection in Nashville. (Courtesy of the Cupcake Collection)

Francois earliest memories of Mardi Gras were formed with her family as they watched parade after parade snake through the Crescent City. She ohed and awed as New Orleans’ artistry, musicianship and creativity were on full display in the streets. It’s a performance she later participated in herself after joining her high school’s flag team. Watching the high school bands battle it out has become one of her favorite Mardi Gras traditions along with the comradery. Families wearing matching T-shirts will become their own “krewes” and grill out and laugh in the same spot they chose generations ago.

“It’s just giant family reunion,” Francois said. “It’s a time when the whole city shuts down and just come together. You see old friends and make new ones. There’s this really strong family bond amongst New Orleans’ people.”

Although Francois has lived in Nashville for almost 17 years, you can taste her New Orleans roots in her baking. Her almond butter cupcake tastes similar to the wedding cakes made in her hometown. Her blackout cupcakes are a nod to McKenzie’s Pastry shoppes, a popular New Orleans bakery which permanently closed after Hurricane Katrina.

When she wanted to expand her cupcake kingdom, Francois said there was no place like home. The New Orleans location is not only place where customers are guaranteed to satisfy their sweet tooths. It is also a space where she teaches her sisters, who run the bakery, how to build a legacy for their kids.

“The Bible says a wise man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children. So, this was my love letter back to the city that made me who I am,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of the rebuild after Katrina, that I wanted to be a part of the keeping the flavor alive.”

 

Black Joy Snow Day

While this isn’t Mardi Gras related, there was no way I can end this week’s Black Joy without addressing the winter weather shutdown. Photos of people braving single-digit temps to have some fun with the fam quickly spread across social media. So, you know I had to go grab me some pics real quick.

Here’s Dr. Jamie Bell, a Birmingham, Ala., family physician, and her 6-year-old daughter, Tinsley. Looks like you can’t tell them nothing about those cute sunglasses they got on.

Dr. Jamie Bell and her 6-year-old daughter Tinsley show off their cute sunglasses while playing in the snow together in Birmingham, Ala. on Feb. 16. (Courtesy of Jamie Bell)

Candace Saulsberry, an Olive Branch, Miss., resident who teaches yoga mostly in Memphis and the mid-South, posted a precious collage of familial Black joy on Monday. The photo of her fiancé, AJ Jones, catching snowflakes with her 3-year-old son, Morgan, was such a precious moment to capture. Mariah is got to experience her first snow day at only five weeks old.

AJ Jones and his 3-year-old son Morgan attempt to catch snowflakes on their tongues in Olive Branch, Miss on Feb. 16. (Courtesy of Candace Saulsberry)

Candace Saulsberry enjoys the snow with her fiancé, AJ Jones, 3-year-old son Morgan Jones & 5 weeks old Mariah Jones in Olive Branch, Miss on Feb. Feb. 16. (Courtesy of Candace Saulsberry)

Saulsberry said she is finding ways to express joy and gratitude everyday despite the pandemic and freezing weather.

“With so much uncertainty, we must show up each day with gratitude,” she said “Be grateful for each day and for each other. How we show up each day makes a difference in how we experience life nowadays. We choose to show up with joy.”

Candace Saulsberry enjoys the snow with her fiancé, AJ Jones, 3-year-old son Morgan Jones & 5 weeks old Mariah Jones in Olive Branch, Miss on Feb. Feb. 16. (Courtesy of Candace Saulsberry)

Keep the good times rolling with your own Black Magic! Until next time!

How are you celebrating your Black Joy? Send me an email at jdunigan@reckonsouth.com and share your happiness and laughter with us! Also, take a minute to check out and join the Black Magic Project’s Facebook page where we celebrate and discuss Black culture and community.