Lower 9th Ward | New Orleans, Louisiana
In a neighborhood located in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, one man works tirelessly for his community. Burnell Cotlon used his life savings of $80,000 to open and operate the only full service grocery store in his community.
Still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward has found it nearly impossible to recover. In an area that was once bustling, a cloud of dejection has shrouded this community for far too long.
When the general public thinks of New Orleans, they associate it with the Superdome, the French Quarter, and Bourbon Street. Those glimpses of an affluent community is a far cry from the reality faced by many in the Lower Ninth Ward.
“After Hurricane Katrina, nobody came back.” he said. “No stores, no nothing.”
As a result of Katrina, Cotlon was the only person who remained in his neighborhood of 42 residents. That was, until an elderly lady moved in next door. After seeing the elderly woman pull up in a taxi filled with groceries, he became curious as to what was happening.
Having been informed that the Lower Ninth Ward contained no grocery stores or businesses of any kind, he decided to hop into his car to see for himself.
Concerned, he reached out to several big box stores wondering why none of them had returned. Because of the low number of people living in the Lower Ninth Ward, all businesses found it too high of a risk to establish roots there.
Through those conversations, Cotlon first became aware of the term “food desert”. Defined as an area that has limited access to nutritious or affordable food, low income communities are greatly affected. Food deserts are characterized by its lack of supermarkets which greatly decreases residents’ access to vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods.
Residents of food deserts, often compensate by stocking up on foods high in fat and sugar. The consumption of high quantities of processed foods leaves those in food deserts at risk of developing future health problems.
A sobering realization, Cotlon decided to take matters into his own hands by opening the “Lower 9th Ward Market.” Originally the site of an old apartment building, Cotlon tore off the roof and reconstructed it into the store of his dreams. Starting as a barbershop, he realized that his community was in desperate need of a grocery store. A self-described average man with above average dreams, Cotlon’s aim is to help the Lower Ninth Ward catch up with the rest of the city.
With the only other full service grocery store located a city over, the average resident would have to take three city buses back and forth in order to purchase essential items. With millions of Americans losing their jobs and growing demands for social distancing, each trip poses both a financial and health risk.
A ten-year veteran of the Army, Cotlon embodies the values of self-service, loyalty, and duty. Eager to make a major difference, many of the residents of this community view Cotlon as an essential light during years of rebuilding efforts.
Possessing a bright smile and optimistic demeanor, Cotlon and the Lower 9th Ward Market have become the heartbeat of its community. A safe haven and local hangout, people of all ages stop by to chat with Cotlon. Having been born and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward, he has seen this community at both its best and worst.
With an unrelenting spirit, Cotlon’s story has reached far beyond his community. Featured on shows like “Ellen”, Cotlon even caught the attention of the Japanese media. Due to the frequency of tsunamis in Japan, several business owners have shied away from opening or rebuilding businesses of their own.
When asked if he was afraid of building a business that no one comes to, Cotlon turned that perspective on its head by asking what if they do come.
That tenacity has become a trademark of his and a major source of inspiration that fueled him to change lives.
And while many measure success by how much money is in their bank account, Cotlon finds the satisfaction of helping others more than enough.
A visionary, he continues to push forward with dreams of expanding his store and opening up new businesses around the Lower Ninth Ward.
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the United States, having access to essential items like hand sanitizer is at all-time high. Due to growing demand from his community, Cotlon ran out of sanitizers and was at a loss when looking for more. With all major retailers running out of supplies quickly after restocking their shelves, residents of the Lower Ninth Ward were left with limited options.
Like several other predominantly African American communities around the United States, the Lower Ninth Ward faces incredible challenges when it comes to the Coronavirus. As a whole, African Americans face higher rates of poverty, housing and food insecurity, chronic illness and disabilities than any other segment of the population.
Low income housing units tend to fall behind in regards to liveable conditions. With the potential of mold and asbestos outbreaks, there is an increase in the risk and prevalence of respiratory disease.
With the added fact that several people in the African American community hold “essential worker” roles, they not only risk exposing themselves to the Coronavirus but their spouse and children as well.
Being the only grocery in his entire community means that the residents depend on Cotlon to provide items that will keep them safe during this pandemic.
Moved by Cotlon’s story of dedication and perseverance, Valencia, California based company, MUSE Health offered a helping hand. Choosing to switch gears from its normal production, MUSE Health has made its mission to help as many people as possible. In order to flatten the curve, MUSE Health believes that everyone needs to work together.
Sending Cotlon 1000 bottles of hand sanitizers, he’s been able to fully stock his shelves, allowing those in his community to have access to this very essential item.
“This gift from MUSE Health is like Christmas, a birthday and Mardi Gras all rolled into one.” he said. “This is a god-send that is going to help out so many people.”
Because MUSE Health’s parent company, CC Wellness, has an over-the-counter drug license as well as a license to purchase alcohol, its transition into the world of hand sanitizers was seamless.
Containing 62% ethyl alcohol, MUSE hand sanitizer works by breaking down a cell wall and deteriorating it from the inside. An essential tool to help fight off bacteria and infection disease, it provides an added sense of assurance that is desperately needed during this pandemic.
With hand sanitizers available at his store, families and individuals no longer have to endure an unwelcome hardship of traveling miles away. Working for up to 17 hours each day, Cotlon continues to live up to the promises made to his community.
And for those customers who cannot make it to the Lower 9th Ward Market, MUSE Health offers the promotional code, “Burnell” which can be redeemed for 30% off your order during check out.
Head over to www.musehealth.com to get your hands on a sanitizer.
Cotlon loves that he can continue serving his community. Although a major risk, he is proud of how far he’s come.
“If you have a store in your community, hug it, appreciate it.” he said. “Having nothing is hard.”
As the Lower Ninth Ward continues rebuilding, Burnell Cotlon will be there every step of the way.