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Part III: A Roundtable with Mayor Cantrell and Black New Orleans Moms Leading the City

One of the aspects that were most enjoyable about the roundtable conversation with Mayor Cantrell and the Black New Orleans Moms leading city departments was the wealth and diversity of wisdom from those around the table. They are moms of teenagers, moms of young children, single moms, married moms, moms of older age, the list goes on. As we closed out our conversation, the ladies reflected on words of advice they would share with our Black New Orleans Mom readers who are navigating leadership in their communities while raising children.

What advice would you give mothers who are navigating leadership in their communities while raising their children?

Mayor Latoya Cantrell

“Be honest,"shares Mayor Cantrell. "Be honest with yourself. You don't have to put on a front. That does require a sense of vulnerability, but it's healthy because it then will prevent you from having to keep up with an image or an expectation that someone has of you. Oftentimes you put on a front and it's hard. So my advice would just be honest and surround yourself with people where you can be honest. You know where you can be vulnerable because that's real people you want to be around. Because you're building yourself up and just your systems, your support around you. As I’ve gotten older I've just learned most people, they're not honest. They're full of ****. Let's be real about it and it's OK. That's how you accept the love back too. You get what you need when you’re vulnerable.”

Lisa Alexis, Director of Cultural Economy

"Recognize and acknowledge small wins on both fronts. With your teams that you work with, small things matter and you never know, you just saying ‘good job’ on an aspect and it doesn't have to be anything major. But just doing that can change someone’s thoughts. {With our kids they may} finish their homework, got a certain grade on your test, just speak to it. It doesn't even have to be that big. And on the work front, a person takes care or takes initiative on something that saves everyone else time, just acknowledge it. It means a lot. And then try, whenever possible, not to dump the frustration of someone who has been an idiot for a moment on another person. Really giving acknowledgment of good things because it means a lot," Lisa says.

Tenisha Stevens, Criminal Justice Commissioner

Tenisha adds,“Having a good support group for me as a single parent, I've needed that support, right? It's been very helpful…making sure the people in your circle, and you don't need a huge circle, but just having that circle of friends that understand. Whose you are, where you come from, and they know your worth, it makes a hell of a difference. And also listen to your children. Last year, my child told me she's like you come in the house talking on the phone, you don't pay me any attention, I'm trying to ask you a question. It's always about the police department. But in hearing that it made me actually think about what do I do every evening... I'm leaving work - I'm on the phone. I get in the driveway - I'm on the phone. I go in the house - I'm on the phone. She's sitting like, hey, I'm here. So for me, I had to set when I pull into my driveway, I'm getting off the phone. I'm going inside. I'm giving a little hour but it's started working. She's like, oh, you're not on the phone. But that was important for me because she was feeling some sort of way and I wasn't seeing the signs of that annoying her. But that's how you have to navigate work, home, and having that kid that needs that attention. It’s a work in progress as we navigate city government, motherhood, home life, all of that. It weighs upon you. But you have to figure out how to navigate it. I just think being honest, having a good group of friends, my Golden Girl crew, that’s what you have to have people that are not looking for something from you because you’re in this particular role. You have to be honest and have a good support group.”

Sunae Villavaso, Director of Workforce Development

“Since becoming a mom at 40, I don't care what interview I'm doing, I let them know that I'm a mom first. So that means a strong positive support system. My daughter was around maybe five people throughout her first two years of life because I wanted to make sure they were the right people taking care of her…Trust your instincts, which is important to me. I tend to think that I have great instincts, so I trust my instincts in all situations. But ultimately for me, I'm a mom first, irrespective of what my role is, and where I'm at. I'm a mom first.”

Connecting Black New Orleans Moms with City Resources

As we closed our conversation, we asked the ladies to share some of the city initiatives and programs they are working on that will have an impact on moms, women, and the greater community New Orleans community. Here are a few we would like to highlight for The Black New Orleans Mom community:

Universal Home Visits Program

There are about 3,000 babies that are born every year in New Orleans. Looking at the needs for maternal health and the disparity gaps that exist, the City of New Orleans has recently launched a home visits program. The city is funding a universal home health program that will allow moms, within the first week of giving birth, will get a home visit from a nurse. Mayor Cantrell adds, “then that lets us get a better sense of what that mom needs, what that family needs, what that baby needs. If it's food, if it’s mental health, if it's workforce, a job, just whatever it is that we're able to meet that need.

Early Childhood Early Learning Seats

In 2022, New Orleans approved a 20-year mileage that expands early learning seats for the children of New Orleans and dedicates up to $21 million annually to early education. Mayor Cantrell says, “we have to get our children on a better path, eradicating poverty, and we believe that with early home visits and early learning, we are really putting our families, our children first in this city; and I think 20 years from now we will see a huge difference in our people.” NOLA Public Schools facilitates the enrollment process through the NOLA-PS Common Application Process.

Paid Training to Become a Childhood Development Specialist

As a result of the early childhood mileage, that creates additional job opportunities for residents to be early childhood development specialists. The Office of Workforce Development has funding to train for people to become early childhood development specialists, “residents can start off earning a certification, then they can get college reimbursement to get an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s degree. My hope is that we start to teach black women, because mostly black women are going into that field, to be entrepreneurs and open their own childcare centers” says Sunae Villavaso, Director of Workforce Development.

Women in the Building Trades

Sunae adds, “when you look at the stats for the city of New Orleans, we have a lot of black women who are the heads of their households. So, we need to put them in family-sustaining wage jobs. So, we are creating our first cohort of training women to be in the building trades, that's going to earn them a family-sustaining wage…so just giving them opportunities to make sure that they can not only take care of themselves, but their families. We have a lot of initiatives in the Office of Workforce Development to make sure, black women in particular, have the {GAS} guidance, assistance, and support they need to be a force in our city”

Diversifying Boards and Commissions

Mayor Cantrell says, “we have been very intentional of diversifying our commissions in the city and shifting into real balance, creating diversity, having more women, Black and Brown women, in these spaces because they were majority heavily white male dominance and we moved the needle. These Boards and Commissions, in many instances, in our city are very powerful. Meaning, they're things that happen on those boards that are out of our control; me as mayor or any {department} seat that we're sitting in. The decisions are made at that board level. That's why it is so critical to have that balance and that diversity so those voices are reflections of this city, the community, and the people that we serve. So if they're not diverse or a reflection of who we are, then again, they're decisions that can be made that impact us, but we're not at the table. So that's just another way that we've been intentional about that. You can go to and you have all the lists and you can apply. The {applications} come to me and we select with that level of intentionality.

Embracing the Cultural Economy

Lisa says, “I would say embracing and stimulating the cultural economy is also a mayoral priority and goal by utilizing dollars that the mayor has gone to the state capital to fight for through cultural economic dollars for the first time and applying those dollars, and those dollars are hotel tax dollars, so they're not small change, they're millions that that we can now invest in a cultural economy but also be very intentional to support our youth as well as the cultural economy and the artists. We are ensuring that we have cultural activities and initiatives that take place that children can be a part of and parents can participate in. {During this past Mardi Gras season} we just recently had STEM NOLA Saturday: The Art of Mardi Gras. We had hundreds of kids participate in STEM; making their floats light up, roll and do all sorts of things from an engineering and math standpoint. This program started at a baby's age. There were babies in pacifiers sitting there engaged in some form of STEM.”

The New Orleans Police Department

Tenisha says, “I'm always a strong advocate for the New Orleans Police Department. We are hiring. We were looking for a few more stars and hopefully, we have our first African American female chief. This profession is not easy. I went through the Academy years ago and have worked in the law enforcement setting, being the first black female to be the Deputy Chief of Investigations at the District Attorney's Office. So I know they have some moms out there that may want to have a career in law enforcement. We are hiring, we take good care of our people, and we take good care of our kids.”

I would like to thank Mayor Cantrell and the members of her executive team for sharing the many intimate parts of their professional and personal lives throughout our conversation. Their transparency and vulnerability was refreshing. It is my hope that this conversation provides inspiration and encouragement to the Black New Orleans Mom community, who themselves, are making history in their perspective communities, businesses, and in their home. May we all continue to push forward into our greatness. Happy Women’s History Month!


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