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Zulu coconuts return to Baton Rouge's McKinley High School

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BATON ROUGE - Capital City will be represented among the Krewe of Zulu come Tuesday morning when many try to get ahold of one golden prize: a coconut.

As a tradition over the past several years, students at McKinley High School have decorated upwards of 500 coconuts each Mardi Gras season to be thrown from parade grounds.

The Krewe of Zulu is one of the oldest and most popular krewes because of its well-recognized symbol of a coconut. Founded in 1909, historians believe the image of the coconut within the krewe dates back to the 1910s.

McKinley High School students started decorating coconuts for the parade because of former McKinley High principal Dr. Gregory Thompson, who rode in the Zulu parade during his tenure at McKinley High School. Coconuts feature a "Z" with the current year of Mardi Gras: "2024."

Ashley Downing, an art teacher at McKinley High, says that the Zulu coconut project brings a rich understanding of history and tradition to her classroom, inviting students into a collective project of unity.

"This is art in real life," Downing said about how she approaches teaching and art surrounding the coconuts in her classroom. "This is something other people are going to see, other people are going to touch and experience."

For McKinley High senior De'Shelle Nelson, while her four years of decorating coconuts are coming to an end, says she hopes to continue getting to decorate Zulu coconuts — glitter, sparkles, and all — long after she graduates.

"Decorating these coconuts, it really makes me feel like (I'm) creating memories and creating history itself because decorating these coconuts mean(s) that I'm part of history, especially with the real meaning of (what) these coconuts are," Downing said. "... It's really an amazing opportunity to decorate something that someone will have for generations to generations."

Hundreds of McKinley High-made coconuts will be thrown into the hands of lucky Mardi Gras goers on Tuesday. The Krewe of Zulu will roll bright and early at 8 a.m..


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