Griot Initiative Archives - StoryCorps
Support voices across America. Become a sustaining member today! Join

18 Years After Katrina, A Grocer Rebuilds His Community One Shop at a Time

To mark StoryCorps’ 20th Anniversary we are revisiting classic conversations from the past two decades with updates from the participants.

This story is from New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. The neighborhood was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and was slow to recover. Almost 10 years after the storm it still didn’t have a single grocery store.

Lower Ninth Ward resident Burnell Cotlon wanted to change that. He saved money by working at fast food restaurants and dollar stores and used it to buy a dilapidated building on an empty block, and opened a neighborhood grocery. 

In 2015 he told his mother, Lillie, how his story started in the days after the flood…

 

Produce, snacks, and a picture of the building before it was renovated at ‘Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market’, New Orleans, Louisiana. By Ian Spencer Cook for StoryCorps. Photo of original building courtesy of Daniel Schergen, who helped renovate it.

 

Burnell Cotlon and customers in his store in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana in September, 2023. Courtesy of Burnell Cotlon.

 

Top Photo: Lillie Cotlon and Burnell Cotlon in front of Burnell’s store, ‘Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market’ in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 19, 2015. By Ian Spencer Cook for StoryCorps.

 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired September 22nd, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

First story aired on August 8th, 2015 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This story is featured in Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, a collection that celebrates the passion, determination, and courage it takes to pursue the work we feel called to do from Penguin Books.

“Motherhood Is Not A Solo Journey:” A Daughter Reflects On Her Childhood

Luz Kenyon grew up in Mexico City, Mexico and in the mid 1980s she took a trip to New York City to celebrate her friend’s college graduation. She had no idea she would fall in love with a Jamaican traffic agent on the corner of 42nd street, and never go home.

She came to StoryCorps with her daughter, Anna Paloma Williams, to talk about this unexpected start to their family, and how she navigated raising mixed kids in America.

Top Photo: Anna Paloma Williams and Luz Kenyon at their StoryCorps interview in Columbus, GA on October 30, 2021. By Sarah Padgett for StoryCorps.
Middle Photo: Abuela Lucha, Luz Kenyon and Anna Paloma Williams in Stone Mountain, GA, in the early 1990s. Photo courtesy of the Kenyon family.
Bottom Photo: Luz Kenyon with Anna Paloma Williams and family celebrating abuela Lucha’s 90th birthday in Mexico City in April 2022. She passed away in December 2022. Photo courtesy of the Kenyon family.

 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired Aug. 4, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

A Life In The Rodeo: A Bull Riding Champion Looks Back

It was a summer day in 1968 when a traveling carnival pitched its tent just outside South Central, Los Angeles. Then 11-year-old Charlie Sampson visited with his Boy Scout troop. He remembers the monkeys, bears and snakes. But it was the pony ride that really caught his attention.

“I gave the man a quarter to ride the ponies. Went around five times and that was the beginning of a lifestyle that I never dreamed of,” he said.

Charlie would later take a job cleaning horse stables in exchange for riding lessons. Eventually, a group of older cowboys took him under their wing and showed him how to rope and ride bulls. Years later, in 1982, Charlie became the first Black man to win the Professional Bull Riding World Championship.

 

 Charlie Sampson riding a bull in 1984. Bern Gregory, courtesy of the Dickinson Research Center at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. 1999.025.2422.33.

He came to StoryCorps with his son, Daniel Sampson, to talk about life as a father and a traveling cowboy.

Top Photo: Charlie Sampson and his son Daniel Sampson at their StoryCorps interview in Denver, Colorado on May 30, 2023. By Tamekia Jackson for StoryCorps.

“You Are Seriously Fearless”: A Niece Thanks Her Favorite Aunt For Her Wisdom and Friendship

Menaja Obinali was born in 1948 and grew up in Franklin, a small Louisiana town. She was one of eleven children, and loved dancing, reading and making art as a teenager. One day an unexpected event shifted the course of Menaja’s life.

Undaunted, Menaja went on to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and later moved to Dallas to get a master’s degree in theology. That’s when she moved in with her sister Connie and 5-year-old niece, Jarie.

Jarie, who still lives in Dallas, interviewed Menaja for StoryCorps when the Mobile Tour passed through in 2014.

Photo: Jarie Bradley and Menaja Obinali at their first StoryCorps interview in Dallas, Texas on December 13, 2014. By Callie Thuma for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired June 23, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Mile in Her Shoes: How A Polio Survivor Forged Her Own Path

Shirley Duhart and her three younger brothers were raised by a single mom in Vine City, Georgia: a segregated, poverty-stricken area at the time. She contracted polio when she was 2 years old, just five years before the vaccine was released. Undaunted, she went on to have a successful career in the tech industry, and to mentor youth on how to navigate college and the corporate world.

Shirley Duhart on the Emory University campus in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1990s.

And Shirley has always defined herself in her own terms, evident in the way she dresses. While her doctors recommended she wear flat, well-balanced shoes, Shirley has been wearing pumps since she was thirteen. She came to StoryCorps with her longtime friend and doctor, Dale Strasser, to talk about why her shoes mean so much to her.

Shirley Duhart and Dale Strasser at their StoryCorps in Atlanta, Georgia on January 17, 2023.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Originally aired April 21, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Pulled Into A Historic Flash Flood, One Man Saves A Stranger’s Life

In September 2009, after several days of heavy rain, the Atlanta metropolitan area suffered intense flash flooding. The catastrophic event killed 10 people and caused millions of dollars in damage. Sweetwater Creek, in Douglasville, was the site of some of the most devastating damage. 

Zack Stephney was 37 years old at the time, and working as a shop foreman at a large trucking company near Douglasville, which was located next to the floodplain. That morning, he rushed to work to help his fellow mechanics move the company’s semi trucks away from the rising waters and out of harm’s way.

A couple of months after the flash flood, he came to StoryCorps with his friend Melissa Brooks to remember the unique circumstances of how they met that day.


Zack Stephney’s coworkers assisting him as he swam out to rescue Melissa Brooks. Photo courtesy of Zack Stephney.

 

Top Photo: Melissa Brooks and Zack Stephney at the site of her rescue in December of 2009. Photo courtesy of Zack Stephney.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired April 7, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

She Was One of the First Black Teachers at Her School, but, “There’s no color when you’re learning to read.”

Eunice Wiley was brought on as one of the first Black teachers at a predominantly white Florida elementary school in 1970. From the start, it was clear her job would be an uphill battle.

Her room had no supplies. The principal didn’t want her to be there. And her class of 20 white first graders had spent little time around Black people.

But she persevered, starting a career in education that lasted until she retired as a principal in 2005.

Wiley came to StoryCorps in 2017 with her friend and fellow teacher, Martha Bireda, to remember how these experiences came to define her as a teacher.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired February 24, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top Photo: Eunice Wiley and Martha Bireda at their StoryCorps interview in Punta Gorda, Florida on January 23, 2017.  By Vero Ordaz for StoryCorps.

 

A Couple Reflects On The Crossroads of Their Relationship

In 1999 Tom Peters met JoAn Joseph at a party for his job. Tom felt obligated to attend, and  JoAn tagged along with a friend who didn’t want to go alone. And yet, they locked eyes from across the room, and danced and talked the night away. 

 

Tom Peters and JoAn Peters in 2000. Courtesy of Tom Peters.

They fell in love and their relationship moved quickly, even though Tom was much older than JoAn and had already been married twice with three children. But a couple of years into their relationship, they came to a crossroads, and had to make a difficult decision.

Tom Peters and JoAn Peters at their StoryCorps interview in Santa Monica, California on January 6, 2020. By Courtney Gilbert for StoryCorps.

Tom and JoAn came to StoryCorps to reflect on that moment, and their journey since.


Top Photo:  JoAn Peters and Tom Peters in 2001. Courtesy of Tom Peters.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired January 20, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

With your support, StoryCorps is able to record more stories that help lift up underrepresented voices, bridge political and social divides, and preserve personal histories for the future.

Donate

“Fear” Wasn’t A Word His Father Knew: The Origins Of A Civil Rights Leader

Rev. Harry Blake grew up working on a cotton plantation in Louisiana. At an early age, he learned the delicate balance between standing up for yourself and survival. Entering adulthood he was drawn to the ministry, eventually becoming the Pastor of Mount Canaan Baptist Church, where he served for many decades.

Rev. Harry Blake in the mid 1960s as a young Pastor of Mount Canaan Baptist Church courtesy of Monica Mickle.

Blake became active in the Civil Rights movement and was invited by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to work for him at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He survived beatings, arrests and even an assassination attempt. 

Rev. Harry Blake (c) talks with Shreveport police outside a memorial service at the Little Union Baptist Church on Sept. 22, 1963. Local authorities refused a permit to hold a memorial for four girls killed in a bomb blast in Birmingham, Ala., several days earlier. When it appeared a march would be held anyway, a tense confrontation ensued. © Langston McEachern, Port Huron Times Herald via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In 2017 Rev. Blake came to StoryCorps with his daughter Monica Mickle. At the age of 85, Rev. Harry Blake Died from COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic.

Top Photo: Monica Mickle and Rev. Harry Blake at their StoryCorps interview in Shreveport, Louisiana on October 30, 2017. By Madison Mullen for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired on January 13, 2023 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

 

 

With your support, StoryCorps is able to record more stories that help lift up underrepresented voices, bridge political and social divides, and preserve personal histories for the future.

Donate

Two Bartenders Remember the Highs and Lows of Working at Brooklyn’s Historic Starlite Lounge

Sometimes a bar is more than just a business, it’s a part of history. These bars are places where cultures flourish, and often become a second home to devoted customers and a treasured landmark that neighbors proudly claim. For many years that was the Starlite Lounge in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which was one of the first Black-owned gay bars in the city.

“It was the most welcoming place in the world,” Albert Johnson remembers.

Closing night at the Starlite Lounge in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in summer 2010. Courtesy of Donna Cuthbert.

Albert tended bar at the Starlite for nine years, and in 2010 he came to StoryCorps with fellow bartender Donna Cuthbert to talk about their time working there; the nights of dancing, the beloved jukebox and the eccentric regulars—some of whom refused to go home.

That same year the property owner sold the building, and despite efforts by the local community it was last call for the Starlite. But its legacy as a gathering space for the gay Black community lives on in the memories of its former employees and patrons.

Originally aired December 30, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

With your support, StoryCorps is able to record more stories that help lift up underrepresented voices, bridge political and social divides, and preserve personal histories for the future.

Donate