by Morgan Lawrence
Carnival season may be over, but Donna Glapion’s reign as Queen Zulu continues. To be sure, the role of Queen Zulu involves more than attending Carnival events and wearing exquisite garments. True royalty embodies the spirit of the people, and native New Orleanian Donna Glapion makes carrying the weight of the crown look easy. But her most prized undertaking is to inspire other women to find their inner regality.
One of Glapion’s cherished memories as Queen Zulu was when she visited a first grader at Bradley Elementary School in Gentilly after the young girl met King Zulu and asked him where his queen was. Glapion later made a trip to the school to meet the young girl in person. The young student shared her goals with Glapion during their meeting, declaring that she planned to hold two coveted roles when she grew up—president of the United States and queen of Zulu.
The young girl’s words made Glapion feel proud to be Queen Zulu more connected to community, she says, adding that the ride along the parade route atop a float is relatively brief and can even seem isolating, but that moment like the one spent with the Bradley Elementary student are the special ones that remind her of what is important.
Although Zulu is a male-driven organization, a king is nothing without his queen. Traditionally, the Zulu membership elects the king and the king selects his queen. And this year’s King Adonis Exposé selected his friend to serve by his side. After being accepted, Glapion signed a contract to represent the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club with regality and grace for the community to see and for future queens to follow.
Glapion and Exposé have been friends since childhood from Gregory Junior High to McDonogh 35, to University of Lafayette Louisiana, to running a business together. Glapion is the School Operations Manager at William J. Fischer Elementary Charter School in Algiers. Along with Exposé, she also operates a consulting and professional services business, Funkshuns.
Still, she is no stranger to the Zulu organization. In fact, Glapion is part of an extended family with deep ties to Zulu. Her distant cousins, the late Roy E. Glapion Jr. and his daughter, Desiree Glapion, served as king and queen of Zulu. Roy Glapion is credited for bringing the Zulu club to modern times under his leadership as president for 20 years from the 1970s until the early 1990s.
“He never had the goal to be king; he just wanted to serve,” says Glapion. Unfortunately, Roy E. Glapion Jr. died from cancer in 1999; but his legacy continues. A former member of the New Orleans City Council, he reigned posthumously as King Zulu in 2000. And the organization’s reception hall bears his name. His daughter, Desiree Glapion, reigned as Queen Zulu twice—first in 1988 and again in 2000, in honor of her father’s posthumous reign as King Zulu.
In addition to the family ties, Donna Glapion says her reign as queen is inspired by the city and all of its inhabitants.
“New Orleans is the best city in the world,” Glapion says, adding that the diversity of cultures, backgrounds, personalities, and music come together to create a “gumbo”. “I inherited friends from Adonis and it was an awesome experience with my best friend and the city.”
Glapion also says it was inspiring to “watch a brotherhood in action” as the Zulu members volunteered their time and resources to the organization, coming together for various events and causes and, of course, to ensure that the annual Zulu parade is on Fat Tuesday of Mardi Gras season.
Another of Glapion’s favorite memories as Queen Zulu include the Coronation Ball and riding on the float on Mardi Gras Day. At the Coronation Ball, the Queen is presented with the Empire Court. On Mardi Gras Day, Donna and her maids rode through New Orleans and saw thousands of adoring people waving at them. Glapion’s maids were some of her longtime friends and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters.
Donna got to see all of her extended family and friends watch her go by in her incredibly intricate and shining garments as she threw the most desired Mardi Gras trinket, the Zulu coconuts.
Community service is a passion for Glapion and the Zulu organization. They visit schools to encourage and inspire students. Meanwhile, this year, the Zulu theme was “Stop the Violence.” Although this is a heavier topic than the whimsical “Zulu Goes Around the World,” the organization’s leaders have said they wanted to focus on some of the challenges the community faces in an effort to draw attention to them.
Other community service ventures include holiday toy drives, Adopt-a-School programs, and donating to the Southern University Scholarship Fund. As queen, Glapion’s responsibilities include reaching out to the youth and the community beyond the floats and beads.
As much as she is enjoying her reign as Queen Zulu, Donna Glapion says she would not do it again.
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity where the first time is truly the best time,” Glapion says, adding that she would want another woman to experience the incredible journey.