Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love
When spring comes we think of children, Easter eggs, bright pink, green, purple and yellow colors, feelings of happiness, dancing, and rebirth.  However, if you happen to have wandered into the Hilton Inn on County Line Road, in Jackson, MS, last year, you may have been tempted to think Easter had arrived early.

Everywhere you looked there were chicks in bright, happy, colors, but we are not talking about baby chickens, we are talking about laughing, screaming, dancing, loud, funny, vivacious ladies, clad in matching, colorful, outlandish outfits that Madea would have been proud to wear; big bright doily hats decorated in Tulle and flowers, colorful feathered boas draped over their necks, pink and green hair, and fish net hose with group names like Cheetas for the Chirren”, “Blinging Beauties of Texas”,  and “The Ta Ta Queens”. 

A little further investigation and, I discovered the source of the gaiety.  I was in the mist of “The Sweet Potato Queens, groups of women from all ages, shapes, sizes and backgrounds forming over 6, 000 chapters in 22 countries, who make a pilgrimage to Jackson, MS every year to celebrate life, and raise money for the Blaire E. Baston Hospital for Children, located in Jackson, MS. There is even a chapter in Saudi Arabia, “No Veils for Us”.

One group, “The Should Have Beens” was formed by Joyce Isaacs of Madison, MS.  “We have had so much fun we should have been arrested, quips Joyce, “This is one of the most liberating, fun things I have ever done.  We will definitely be back next year.”

The Sweet Potato Queens Festival is the 1982 brainchild of Tupelo native and long-time Jackson, MS resident “Jill Conner Browne”, New York Times best selling author of such books as “The Sweet Potato Queen Field Guide to Men, (Every Man I Love is Either Married, Gay or Dead”) and her newest book, “American Thighs, Learning to laugh through the Tough Times of Life)” The Sweet Potato Queen’s Guide to Preserving your ASSetts.

“My father taught me that if there is a need you should always participate, and do all you can to help”, says Browne, “The Blaire E  Baston Hospital for Children is the only hospital in the state that will treat a child regardless of the parent’s ability to pay. This weekend is about buying wheelchairs for the kids.  Basic kid sized wheel chairs start at $900.00 and ones that tilt to whatever angle the child needs, cost $9,000. Last year’s event raised $30,000.  Everything we do has a fund raising arm.”

Browne started the Sweet Potato Queens when long time friend Malcolm White decided to do a St. Paddy’s day parade.  “I just declared myself Sweet Potato Queen, and it has grown from there”, says Browne. “When I started it, I had no idea how many women needed to feel like they were queen of something, and dying to be in a parade.  Life is short, and hard on a good day, so dressing funny and acting stupid allows a woman to forget her troubles and step outside of herself and become someone else for a little while. Play is as healthy as food clothing and shelter. I simply give women permission to have fun, and an invitation.” 

The youngest person who comes to the parade is in Utero and the oldest one, that marches the entire route, is 96, Aunt Faye from Midland Texas.

Only one male, Lance Romance, the official Consort, and love slave for the Sweet Potato Queens, is allowed to ride in the Parade.  “I’m just another pretty face”, jokes Lance, “I’ve been with the Queens for 25 to 30 years.”

“If you would like to form a chapter there are no fees, and no rules except one”, says Browne, “You do what I say, when I say it, with a big smile on your face. The person who forms the chapter will be Boss Queen, and make the rules for that chapter.”

This year The Sweet Potato Queens Zippity Doo Dah™ Parade, Million Queen March, will be held March 24th - 27th. for more information.


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