Adonis Expose makes it look so easy.
Past Zulu kings have had decades of membership under their belts and felt the sting of multiple failed campaigns before landing the social aid and pleasure club's top honor. Expose won the title of King Zulu 2017 on his first try.
He wore a collected grin Monday (Feb. 20) even as his phone took on a life of its own, buzzing and chirping with new calls and text messages by the minute. He squeezed an interview between a morning school visit and a final fitting in Covington for the feathered and sequined costume he will wear Mardi Gras Day. Details still needed to be hammered out for the 50 tables he will oversee at Friday night's Zulu ball, from catering menus to centerpieces.
Expose wouldn't have it any other way.
"I never want to sit back and be a number," he said. "I always want to be involved."
He sharpened the statement with a bit of wisdom he shares with local students on his school visits.
"You have to do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do," he said. "I tell them you can be here too, but it takes a plan and hard work."
Hard work. Look beyond the wide smile and you find Expose wears his hard work ethic like a mantle.
Before Zulu, he chaired the activities and fundraising committees for Omega Psi Phi, planning raffles and parties and editing local articles for the fraternity's national publication. He was elected the first African-American treasurer as an undergraduate at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1989.
Two years later, determined to start living a healthier lifestyle, Expose gave up red meat, breads and pastas and started walking the university track every day. He shed 90 pounds in three months, weight he has kept off to this day.
Even his birthday involves sweat equity. He turned his annual birthday party in December into a Christmas toy drive to benefit low-income kids. Last year, more than 700 of his friends gathered to celebrate, donating hundreds of toys and 60 bicycles to Zulu's Toys for Tots toy drive.
Expose, who oversees procurement for the Regional Transit Authority during his day job, was 34 when he joined Zulu in 2002 -- a "late bloomer" as he puts it.
"I wanted to make sure I really had the time to put in the work," Expose, now 48, said.
And work he did. Expose has played a role on 10 different Zulu committees and is in charge of planning the club's annual Christmas party. He served as "Mayor" of the organization in 2008 as well as two three-year terms as parliamentarian, ensuring the club's bylaws are followed during board and general membership meetings.
"Whether he's running for something or not, when he goes to the club he shakes everybody's hand, speaks to everybody," said Donna Glapion, a longtime friend and business partner who will reign beside him as Zulu Queen. "He is just a general all-around good guy. He works hard, he plays hard."
Expose studied previous King Zulus closely before throwing his hat into the ring. An early Mardi Gras last year made for an unusually long four-month run before votes were taken in May. He obsessed over the details, from making sure to shake hands with everyone and keep drinks filled at parties, to fine-tuning the fonts and verbiage for each of the six rounds of printed mailers he sent to members.
"I just saw being the king was the ultimate of the organization," Expose said. "I didn't want to settle for average."
Expose's path to Zulu King was hardly a given. Many Zulu members can name fathers and grandfathers who were a part of the century-old club. Expose is the first Zulu member in his family.
The youngest of six siblings by seven years, Expose remembers jumping out of bed at 5 a.m. to prepare for the Zulu parade as a kid. He cooked hot dogs and carefully wrapped them in tinfoil for lunch, begging until an older sister agreed to walk him from their 7th Ward home to the route.
Cheryl Broaddus, his oldest sister, said Expose typically got what he wanted. He was the baby after all, given a name that divulged the sky-high hopes his family had for him. (In Greek mythology, Adonis is the god of beauty and desire.)
But Broaddus said he always gave back to the family ten-fold. "No matter how busy he is, he's going to pass through to see family first," she said.
Expose was close to his mother, Marion Brown Expose, an active member of St. John Divine Missionary Baptist Church in the 7th Ward who dressed to the nines and placed God, family and education above all else.
She was a fixture at Expose's parties and so thrilled when he was named winner of the crown last May she walked around for hours telling everyone she met about her son, the Zulu King.
Mardi Gras will be bittersweet. Marion Brown Expose died unexpectedly in October, before she saw her son reign as King Zulu during the ball and parade. She was 84.
The pain of her absence is still raw for Expose and his siblings. The burgundy and champagne dress she purchased for the Zulu ball is still hanging in the closet of her New Orleans East home.
"That really hurts, not having her around," he said.
For now, the heartache is tempered by the pageantry and splendor of Zulu festivities. Expose said it makes him happy to see family and friends enjoying themselves. He has family coming in from all over the country to participate in the events, including a nephew who flew all the way from Hawaii.
Much like the Mardi Gras of his childhood, Expose will be waking his family in the wee hours of the morning to get ready for the parade -- make-up and costuming starts promptly at 3 a.m. He doesn't expect to get much sleep anyway.
"Can you see me sleeping Lundi Gras night knowing that I'm the king?" Expose joked. "I probably won't sleep that night. That's my last night. I've got to enjoy it. Once I get off that float they'll be like 'Who are you?'"