As a young boy, Jesse Johnson remembers standing in front of his grandmother’s house at the very edge of the street, trying to grab his handful of beads thrown from the passing car.
The ten-year-old was keeping with the long-standing tradition for the New Orleans French Quarter.
It was a Cadillac, to be precise, that drove over the top of his foot. Not even agony of the moment could stop him from pressing on through the celebration.
“That’s how close I was trying to get my beads. It hurt so much, it didn’t break anything,” Johnson laughs. “I distinctly remember that day.”
The world-famous throwing of the beads, millions of pounds of beads every year, brings out millions of people worldwide for the Mardi Gras Festival and other pomp and grandeur.
Johnson still goes home every year to collect the best and brightest to bring back to his group, Louisiana to Los Angeles Organizing Committee, also known as LALA Second Liners.
On February 22-23, LALA Second Line dancers can be seen at the Aquarium of the Pacific in celebration of Black History Month, along with numerous jazz artists, West African dancers, hip hop and break dancers, jazz musicians, and storytellers. Also exhibiting, Forgotten Images: A Celebration of African and African-American History.
Johnson, president of LALA, said their Second Liners are excited to participate again this year for the event.
But year-round, they let the good times roll at parties, weddings and parades, and at funerals.
In the early days of New Orleans, the casket and the family were driven by horse or mule with Second Liners dancing close behind with the umbrella, rejoicing in the death and the life.
At local parades and their Annual Mardi Gras Ball or when they award scholarships to graduating seniors, he is proud to redistribute the beads from back home.
“If they’re exceptionally nice beads, I will give them to my guests at my table and I let it be known that these are the beads I caught at Mardi Gras,” he said.
Johnson grew up around Orleans and Claiborne avenues, about a block away from Native tribes, the blood brothers of the community where they proudly strutted their ceremonial dress that took all year to the sew on the beads.