Last month, ESSENE celebrated Mother’s Day and Black Mom’s Week by paying tribute to Black moms on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis who aren’t just taking care of their own families but fighting to keep ours safe too. Their efforts deserve far more praise than just one day, or month, can hold, so as part of the Yes, Girl! Podcast Black Moms On The Front Lines series, we continue to celebrate them.
ESSENCE staffers have a special place in their hearts for New Orleans, the brand’s home away from home. The city hosts the ESSENCE Festival Of Culture annually. Although the live event had to be cancelled for the first time in ESSENCE history due to the coronavirus pandemic the 2020 event will still go on virtually.
Despite these unprecedented times, New Orleans has done an extraordinary job of flattening the COVID-19 curve with the guidance and tireless efforts of Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the city’s first black female mayor. For the latest edition of the Moms On The Front Lines series, we sat down with Mayor Cantrell to talk about the resilience of both the city and its people—even amid a global coronavirus pandemic.
Since Hurricane Katrina destroyed parts of the city and took countless lives, the city has defined what it means to survive in the wake of a disaster, and its response to the COVID-19 has been no exception. It has become something of a case study for the rest of the country as city’s fight to beat the pandemic and reopen society. Yes, Girl! podcast co-host Charli Penn and ESSENCE Deputy Editor Allison McGevna sat down with the Mayor to unpack her action plan and learn how her beautiful city keeps hope alive, even in the face of disaster. Their secret weapon? Mayor Cantrell says it starts with the people and it’s all about trust and connectivity.
“[Hope and positivity] it’s a part of the natural spirit of this city,” says Mayor Cantrell. “People are just real. They don’t put on a show. It is what it is. If I’m doing bad, I’m doing bad, but I’m going to tell you how I’m doing bad. And if I’m doing good, I’m going to let you know, but not to make you feel bad. So we embrace the realities that we live in. And through that, we also embrace our culture.”
Her overwhelming love for the city of New Orleans just pours out during this special interview. See highlights from the intimate podcast interview with Mayor Cantrell below and listen to the entire interview on Yes, Girl! podcast wherever you get your podcasts.
Mayo Cantrell On New Orleans Slowly Reopening
“Now, we’ve come into this saying stay at home. And we’re pivoting to safest at home. So you’re still safe to stay at home now. And although we are limiting restrictions, we’re saying only go out for your essential needs or for the activities that we’re allowing you to participate in. So that is retail opening up at 25% capacity. Strict guidelines that are in place at the state level. The businesses have to sign up with the State Fire Marshall, so that we all know that they know what they’re supposed to do because there’s enforcement that’s tied to the reopening. And if businesses are not complying to the rules, the guidelines, they will be shut down. And I’m not allowing for any wiggle room in that. Either you do the right thing or you don’t. If you demonstrate you’re not doing the right thing, we’re going to have to close you because the warning could mean a life, and you can’t get that life back. This is serious. And we’ve already lost over 480. We’re at 489 deaths right now. And it could have been far greater had people not done the right thing. But at the end of the day, we need businesses to comply…”
Mayor Cantrell On New Orleans Flattening Its Curve
“It’s been a Herculean effort. Many people, and at the heart of it all, it has been the public, the residents of this city trusting themselves, trusting data in science, trusting their government. And by doing that, they adhered to the mandates that we had in place. And at the end of the day, that’s what led to us being able to flatten the curve, in addition to testing capacity. We have tested more than several countries in our city alone. That is the key, continuing to test at high capacity and also going into neighborhoods, going where the people are and not saying, Hey, you need to go get a test outside of your neighborhood. But you know what? Hey, here we are. Come right here where you live. Let us meet you where you are, to not only test you, but to provide case management as well. Let me link you to food. Let me link you to mental health services if you need it. Let me link you to a UI, unemployment insurance… So a comprehensive approach to meeting, again, the residents where they are and that built trust. They saw us where they are, then they said, you know what? Hey, not only are they cared about, but it reinforced their trust again in community, but also the civic trust in government. That’s something that is invaluable when you can trust, when you can trust your leadership and you follow what your leader says. And people don’t have to do it, but the fact that they did, it tells me that I have to continue to be honest. I have to continue to just call it like it is, be transparent, be very empathetic and passionate, and do the work because that only reinforces for people the trust that we all need to get through this.”
Mayor Cantrell On How New Orleans Residents Keep Hope Alive
“And it’s a part of the natural spirit of this city. People are just real. They don’t put on a show. It is what it is. If I’m doing bad, I’m doing bad, but I’m going to tell you how I’m doing bad. And if I’m doing good, I’m going to let you know, but not to make you feel bad. So, we embrace the realities that we live in. And through that, we also embrace our culture. And we have been able to keep our musicians working virtually so that folks can hear and see and feel the sounds of the city in the midst of this crisis and being able to connect. The connectivity is the biggest thing. And although we haven’t been able to hug, we have been able to lift up the virtual presence. That is significant because it makes people know that they’re not alone and that we’re trying to be as creative and innovative to show the love and make them feel, feel the love. That gets us through and builds the hope….The deaths … We have yet to understand the psychological impact that this will have, not only on our city, but in the country. But even how we celebrate death is unlike anywhere else in this country. The frontline is the family at that funeral. And that second line, the people have your back. It’s something that we’re used to. And so not having that, I think has been the greatest sense of devastation that we felt as a community, not being able to support our families like we normally do, through death.”
Mayor Cantrell On Finding Balance As A Working Mother
“It’s okay. Owning the fact that things, you have all these things and you may not be in control of all of them. So, recognizing that and owning that and knowing it is okay, and there is no judgment there. Oftentimes, we judge ourselves because we also think we’re being judged by so many other people. But I would say own, own, own it. Then I would say, do align your list of priorities with things that make you happy. And not happiness in the short term, but really happiness in the long term. Because the changes that you want to make are things that you want to stick to. And build in happiness within your life for the long term. And we deserve that. So there are things that I’ve done that I don’t want to go back to. They say, ‘Oh, the new normal.’ Yep, you’re right. Bam. Balance. I don’t want to go back. And so, it’s just encouraging my sisters out there to own whatever the existing condition is and how you feel. But know you can change that attitude by looking for happiness that only you can provide for yourself that will translate itself into happiness for others because you’re happy.”