COVID-19 has caused unspeakable pain within our community here in New Orleans and across the globe. With the infections of so many that we love, it became alarmingly clear that our initial assumptions about this virus were misguided; no race, gender, age, or social station is immune. With the fastest rate of increase for confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, our city and state is once again making national news, but what’s missing in those headlines is perhaps the most important and compelling part of our story—the collective strength, resiliency, and hope of our people.
This is what makes “stay at home” so hard in New Orleans. We are a city that’s overcome so much hardship and adversity, but we have done so together. We love each other, we lean on each other, and we depend on each other when the going gets tough. We greet with hugs and kisses not because we are being “extra” or polite, but because we really do care when we ask, “how are you doing?” We listen, we hug, we kiss, and we thrive on our strong sense of community and togetherness. That being said, our current predicament is no surprise. What may be a surprise, however, especially to those on the outside, is our ability to fight this and emerge stronger than ever before.
As the nation rightly focuses on our city, I want it to see all of her. Yes, we are a hotspot for COVID-19, but those statistics do not and should not define us. We are home to nine institutions of higher education. We are home to two highly prestigious medical schools. Much of the research that is informing public health policy occurs right here at Tulane’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and LSU’s Rebekah Gee, MD, our former Department of Health Secretary, is quoted frequently as a national thought leader in this crisis.
Beyond our minds, we are acting with our hearts. New Orleanians are helping each other, as they always have, but are finding new and creative ways to do so. At a time where so many are struggling financially, so many civic leaders such as the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF), Baptist Community Ministries (BCM), Southeast Louisiana United Way, and Mrs. Gayle Benson are still stepping up in major ways to lend a hand.
My colleagues and I experienced this generosity firsthand following the launch of our Gig Economy Relief Fund last week, when we received two contributions to match our own $100,000 seed investment. While I am immensely grateful to BCM and the Gayle Benson Community Assistance Fund for their matching investments, I am even more awe-inspired and encouraged by the nearly $30,000 that New Orleanians have raised in $5, $50, and $100 increments to assist their fellow neighbors in this crisis.
When we are on the other side of COVID-19, I hope that more Americans will appreciate the unrelenting spirit of New Orleans and invest here.
So, America, yes, we need help; however, we are not helpless. From our scientific brains to our generous hearts, I implore you to take the time to learn our full story.
Quentin L. Messer, Jr., CEcD is President and CEO at the New Orleans Business Alliance, the accredited economic development organization focused on growing the New Orleans economy. Through inclusive economic development strategy, he believes we can create a more equitable and prosperous future for all.