It is difficult, nearly impossible, to know with a high level of certainty when you will have a life-changing moment. On the seventeen hour drive to New Orleans, I had plenty of time to prepare to have a series of life changing experiences on my week-long Fall Break service trip. But in the moments leading up to each experience, I was not expecting each coming experience to have such an impact on the way I look at the world.
There is one impactful story in particular that sticks out in my mind; partly because of the strong emotions that accompany the story, and partly because of how unprepared I was to feel those emotions.
Burnell Cotlon served in Germany for 11 years. His dream was to be a police officer. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he realized the need for a grocery store in his home neighborhood. His home was the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. This region of the city was among the most heavily impacted by the hurricane. Before he built his grocery store, a resident would have to ride three city buses to get to the next closest store. Burnell built a store from the ground up to be of service to his community.
Burnell told our service group, “Before Hurricane Katrina, I had forty-two neighbors. Today, I have three. I am encouraging all of you to go home and hug your neighbors, and tell them how much you appreciate them.”
As we were driving to Burnell’s store, The Lower Ninth Ward Market, I had no idea that my life would be changed in just a few minutes. But that is what happened. Meeting Burnell for the first time and hearing his story was like a strong wind in my face. It caught me unprepared and nearly knocked me over. Burnell talked about how he has added washing machines, an internet café, toys, school supplies, and a produce section to his store, all in response to the needs of the community. He talked about how he appeared on Ellen, and she is the one who donated the washing machines and dryers to his store. He has also met Justin Timberlake, Rachel Ray, and Mark Zuckerberg. Timberlake donated a freezer to Burnell’s store.
Knowing all these celebrities is not a top priority for Burnell Cotlon. His main focus is helping his neighbors and friends. He loves meeting groups like ours (11 college students) because we encourage him and give him energy to keep doing what he is doing.
Class of 2020
The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.