Exclusive: New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell Has Plans to Restore and Uplift the Community Amid COVID-19

Elected officials around the nation are working to reopen cities safely amid COVID-19. While the process has been delayed by the continuous spread of the virus, leaders are sharing their plans to get their cities back up and running. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is working around the clock to keep people healthy, help business owners open their doors, and serve the community.

Since being elected in 2018, Mayor Cantrell has launched a number of initiatives to restore and uplift the city. One of those initiatives is Forward Together New Orleans (FTNO), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Since the founding of the organization, the nonprofit has served as a bridge between the public and private sectors to address New Orleans’ most pressing challenges. More recently, she and FTNO partnered with Cash Money Records to pay June rents for low-income residents living in subsidized housing.

In an email interview, BLACK ENTERPRISE touched base with Mayor Cantrell about her efforts and initiatives as a leader.

Overcoming COVID-19

NOLA has been hit hard by COVID-19. What has the city been doing to overcome some of the perils of the virus under your leadership?

New Orleans was at the forefront of this crisis, and our communities were disproportionately impacted by the fatalities. Over the past two months, New Orleans has gone from one of the cities with the highest rates per capita to a leader in recovery. New Orleans and the State of Louisiana are showing the world how to get through this. From day one, we took action that has set a foundation for our trajectory forward. Our city has become a world leader in testing residents.

We are testing at a higher rate than nearly anywhere in the country, and even some countries as a whole, and we are positioned to keep that going. We have stood up drive-thru testing and mobile testing sites in a matter of days. Testing has been one part of our response. We have flattened the curve—with proactive movement and messaging to unite the City in the need to decrease cases and fatalities. We are now working on contact tracing to get a better sense of who is getting infected, as well as how and where. New Orleans residents should be proud of what we’ve accomplished together in two months.

Opening Up Shop In New Orleans

What are some of your plans for NOLA residents and small businesses as the city opens back up?

Currently, we are in Phase One of our reopening, which we have named “Safest at Home.” We are taking a cautious and intentional approach to our city. Each phase will begin to ease the restrictions on our people and businesses but will be done in a way so that we do not go backward. Our response has been guided by one operating principle for two months into this effort: We will focus on data and not on an arbitrary date. For our business owners and to all, there is not an either/or decision between economic health and public health. Without public health, economic activity is not possible.

What impact will Cash Money’s contribution to your efforts have on New Orleans residents?

In years to come, when we look back on how our city came together to get through the coronavirus crisis, we will have a great example of leadership and community from the Williams brothers and Cash Money Records. No one should have to fear losing their home while trying to protect their health. Just as we took action and quickly banned evictions in our city during the COVID-19 crisis, this will help us continue on that path.

As people give back to the community, in what ways do you hope it inspires NOLA residents to keep going?

This donation demonstrates how we can come together as businesses, government, and nonprofits to address our residents’ most pressing needs now. No one person or entity can get through this alone, and we all have to be in this together. Our people are so resilient, and when they are put to a challenge like this, we see people rise to the occasion. I am confident that our city will be stronger, improved, and more resilient as we come out of this crisis.

What charge do you have for people to stay safe?

Follow the guidelines for your safety and the safety of others. Do not let up and stay the course. We do not want to endure another and worse wave of this pandemic. 

To learn more about how COVID-19 is impacting the black community, click here.