Burnell Cotlon lives in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, a once thriving community — until Hurricane Katrina hit.
Now, 10 years later, shrubs have overtaken property once occupied by homes. Many who once lived in the area have chosen not to return.
But not Colton. The U.S. Army veteran is determined to do his part to revive the community.
“I’m just an average guy with above average dreams — and my dream was to make my neighborhood look like the rest of the city,” he told the CBS Evening News.
After becoming the first to rebuild on his block, Colton took things one step further: he tore off the roof of an old apartment building located in the abandoned area, renovated it and put on display a two-word sign outside.
Colton used his entire life savings of $80,000 — earned from his 10 years in the military — to open the Lower Ninth Ward Market — the only store in the area.
“There was nothing, nothing in the entire area,” his mother told the CBS Evening News. “There wasn’t even a good street light out there.”
Colton said he knew he had to do it.
“The large box stores say they’re not coming back because there’s not enough people and the people that want to come back say they’re not coming back because there’s no stores,” he told the CBS Evening News. “What came first the chicken or the egg? Somebody still has to do something.”
“It cost me everything,” he added. “It cost me my whole life savings.”
But that hasn’t deterred him. The market has begun to serve as more than simply a store in the local area. Children come by after school and it doubles as a meeting spot for the community. Colton even revealed he is thinking of adding an skating rink or laundromat.
“I’m going to keep on going,” he said. “I’m not going to let nothing or nobody stop me.”
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