By Piper Thurman
In one of her stops back to her roots, before her inauguration this week, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell reminded students that she knows exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes. She revisited her alma mater, Xavier University of Louisiana on April 30, 2018, to share her journey from student to elected official during a service at St. Katherine Drexel Chapel.
She is more than just the first African-American woman to serve the City as mayor, said Xavier Alumnus Trenton Butler who is an intern for Cantrell. Butler said that working with her, he finds her to be a down to earth, humble woman who cares about the rights of every single person in this City.
“It’s humbling to know where I started. It makes me know that where I started is where I want to make sure I stay connected to as I move through this journey to make New Orleans a better City,” Cantrell told students.
She came to New Orleans to attend Xavier in 1990, and although she had the help of her grandparents, she said she still needed to find work to support herself. She told students she found a job at a hotel, working in the laundry room and at the front desk. To get to Xavier, she would take a street car every day, then transfer to a bus that took her to Louisiana Avenue, and then over to Washington Avenue, and finally to Xavier. It was her everyday transportation that opened her eyes to a lot of different environments in the City, as well as the different mentalities and mannerisms the passengers had, Cantrell said.
“That’s what drew me in and kept me in the City of New Orleans. Those disparities that made me care about the people, wanting to make life better for everyone in every neighborhood of this City,” Cantrell said.
When she arrived in New Orleans, it was to pursue a degree in Biology/Pre-Medicine, but God had different plans for her, Cantrell said. She ended up graduating with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Political Science. She hadn’t dreamt about going into politics, or ever becoming the Mayor of New Orleans, but now that she is, she said she plans on leaving her mark, as she begins to implement change and different policies in the City.
Cantrell spoke about prayer and trusting in God’s mission when life hits with unexpected circumstances.
“We all have a role to play no matter what our age is, no matter what our accomplishments are, and through life there will be ups and downs,” Cantrell said, “But we need to be connected to people with that spirit of humility to understand that with trusting in the Lord that you can overcome and you can get through it,” Cantrell said.
Students said they related to Cantrell’s story and found her advice helpful. Some students even went up and gave their own testimonies about surviving college and the school year. Bryan Redman, who serves as the Student Government Association President at Xavier spoke about his perseverance throughout his senior year, sharing a story about a friend he lost while at Xavier.
“A number and a decimal point does not define who we are. We can and will get through it,” Redman said.
As she finishes her junior year at Xavier, Kelsey Green, Miss Xavier 2018-2019 said she deeply admired Cantrell and connected to her journey.
“It’s so rewarding to see a woman, an African-American woman at that, making history in New Orleans. We have someone that looks just like us as our mayor, which is so inspiring,” Green said.