Burnell Cotlon and Lillie Cotlon

For New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, the section of the city hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed, recovery has been slow.

Nearly ten years after the storm, the neighborhood still did not have a single grocery store. But Ninth Ward resident Burnell Cotlon (pictured above, right) set out to change that.

before and after

Using money saved while working at fast food restaurants and dollar stores, he bought a dilapidated building on an empty block. And in 2014 he opened the Lower Ninth Ward’s first grocery store since the storm. At StoryCorps, he sat down with his mother, Lillie (pictured above, left), to remember the days after the flood.


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

Callings is now available from Penguin Books. Get the book at our neighborhood bookstore, Greenlight Bookstore, or find it at your local bookstore.

To help Burnell further his dream of expanding the Lower 9th Ward Market, visit his Go Fund Me page.

Originally aired August 8, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Schergen, Ian Spencer Cook, and Hanna Rasanen for StoryCorps.

Antoinette Franklin and Iriel Franklin

Iriel Franklin (left) and her aunt Antoinette Franklin (right) discuss being forced to relocate to Houston, Texas, following Hurricane Katrina. For Antoinette one of her most difficult moments came when she saw her mother and aunt—her family’s matriarchs—have emotional breakdowns. For Iriel the panic of not being able to locate other members of her family was hardest.

Originally aired August 24, 2007, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

David Duplantier and Melissa Eugene

New Orleans police officer David Duplantier tells his wife, Melissa Eugene, about patrolling the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.

Douglas P. deSilvey

Douglas P. deSilvey talks about losing his wife, daughter, mother-in-law, and father-in-law in Hurricane Katrina.

Joshua Norman and Rachel Leifer

Newspaper reporter Joshua Norman tells girlfriend, Rachel Leifer, about reporting on Hurricane Katrina.

Rufus Burkhalter and Bobby Brown

New Orleans Pump Station workers Rufus Burkhalter (right) and Bobby Brown remember the night Hurricane Katrina hit.

Roy Calabrisi and Anthony Calabrisi

Roy Calabrisi and his brother Anthony talk about rebuilding their lives after Hurricane Katrina.

John W. Taylor, Jr.

John W. Taylor, Jr. talks about how New Orleans has changed since Hurricane Katrina.

Kiersta Kurtz-Burke and Justin Lundgren

Dr. Kiersta Kurtz-Burke tells her husband, Dr. Justin Lundgren, about caring for patients at Charity Hospital in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

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