I did find out he got a grant, but I think it’s probably better off as a story since I could use him as an example of the Food Desert problems. I subtracted a few details of his life story and reframed him a bit in the larger story. I know the story team is incredibly selective though.
"Since its establishment in 2014, Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market has been the only thing standing between the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward and a food desert.
As most people familiar with the fateful final days of August of 2005 know, the Lower Ninth Ward was ground zero of the most long-lasting damage of New Orleans. The neighborhood adjoining the city’s southeastern border was virtually erased as an 18-foot-high wall of water enveloped nearly 4 miles of land. Homes in the first nine blocks from the Industrial Canal and homes were knocked off their foundation.
What was once one of the region’s most stable communities for Black homeowners had been decimated in an instant. For those that chose to return to rebuilt homes, one of the largest problems was that the infrastructure for a healthy community wasn’t there including nearby convenience stores and gas stations (16 years after Katrina, the Lower Ninth lacks these amenities).
At the time of the Hurricane, Ninth Ward native Burnell Cotlon was working into the final hours at the Burger King he managed giving out supplies. He made a (possibly life-saving) last-minute decision hours before the levee was breached to bring his family and mother to a military base where at least some of his extended family could be safe.
When he eventually returned to a lesser version of the Ninth Ward, he not only had to rebuild his life but he was determined to rebuild the community as well. When he heard that one of his neighbors had to take three bus lines and spend two hours just to get groceries, an epiphany struck Burnell. In November of 2014, Burnell poured his life savings to open a grocery store. His inventory was based on the needs of the community, operating with the motto “If you don’t see it, we can order it.”
He soon got the attention of media outlets and eventually landed on the TV show of one of New Orleans’ most famous daughters, Ellen DeGeneres. On her show, DeGeneres agreed to fund a laundromat for Burnell’s store which has now been named the Ellen DeGeneres laundromat.
He has also had the rapper T.I., Mark Zuckerberg, and NBC’s Lester Holt as visitors to his store and he proudly greets visitors with pictures of the people he’s met through his store. Through the pandemic and additional hurricanes, Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market continues to be a community lifeline through thick and thin.
As of 2021, Burnell’s has expanded into a candy store, a barbershop, and a deli that serves some of the only chef-prepared poboys in the area. With pictures of visitors such as Degeneres, Mark Zuckerberg, Tip “T.I.” Harris, and Lester Holt lining the walls, the store is one of the most famed success stories in the nieghborhood.
Still, challenges through the pandemic and, most recently, Hurricane Ida have strained Cotlon’s resources. Furthermore, despite winning a Propeller Grant for a healthier New Orleans in 2015, the ability to provide New Orleans with fresh food is still a struggle.
My proposed article would begin with Burnell Cotlon’s story and zoom out to the lack of commercial infrastructure and food desert that still plagues the Lower Ninth Ward. I would also write about other organizations like the Lower Nine/Common Ground Food Pantry that are trying to fill in that gap."