Bryan “Birdman” Williams and Ronald “Slim” Williams of Cash Money Records have donated over $225,000 to Forward Together New Orleans (FTNO), the non-profit 501(c)(3) organization filling urgent gaps in community needs and available resources to protect our city during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though initially planned for May, funds will be used specifically to pay the June rent for hundreds of subsidized tenants and families who are most at need, and live in the former Magnolia, Calliope, and Melpomene projects, now known respectively as the Scattered Sites Harmony Oaks, Marrero Commons, and Guste. Tenants will be notified directly if they are included in the grant, which will go to the landlords.
The Williams brothers grew up in New Orleans and went on to establish the top independent record label in the country launching the careers of dozens of artists including Lil Wayne, Juvenile, and Nicki Minaj. Giving back to their community and those less fortunate is a priority for the brothers who created their own 501(c)(3) organization The Johnny and Gladys Williams Foundation—named after their parents as a channel for their philanthropic endeavors. For over 20 years, via The Johnny and Gladys Williams Foundation, the Cash Money duo has given away free Thanksgiving dinners and partnered with Ochsner Health Systems to provide free health screenings available to all New Orleans residents who come to the turkey give-away.
Bryan states, “The legacy of Cash Money belongs to the city of New Orleans. There’s nothing more important to us than giving back to the brothers and sisters who live on those same streets we grew up on – from musicians to service workers to everyday working families. That’s what this label was always about.”
“New Orleans made us and is part of who we are,” says Ronald. “We are devastated that this pandemic is hitting our community there so hard and we are committed to doing what we can to help now and in the long term.”
Given the scale of COVID-19 and its far-reaching impacts on the City of New Orleans, Forward Together New Orleans plans to immediately issue checks to the scattered sites to pay for June rent for those tenants who are in the public housing programs, excluding any monies already subsidized by the government and other organizations. FTNO is The Mayor’s Fund which began as New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s transition committee and now plans to thrive long past her tenure in office, a vehicle that offers nonprofit, partnership support to future New Orleans mayors.
Said Mayor LaToya Cantrell: “In years to come, when we look back on how our city came together to get through the coronavirus crisis, we will have no better example of leadership than the Williams brothers, these sons of New Orleans who make our city proud today. No one should have to fear losing their home while trying to protect their health. That is why we have been leading the charge in New Orleans to make housing more affordable, and quickly banned evictions in our city during the COVID-19 crisis. This helps us continue that path, demonstrating how we can come together as businesses, government, and non-profits to address our residents’ most pressing needs now.”
Mayor Cantrell’s administration has uncovered hundreds of millions in infrastructure dollars to fix New Orleans’ ancient drainage system, and now turns its attention to human infrastructure. After Hurricane Katrina while a neighborhood leader, Mayor Cantrell helped stand up five community health clinics to bring affordable access to residents. As Councilperson, she led the fight to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. As Mayor, she formed Fit NOLA, a partnership between the City of New Orleans and local organizations working together to fight obesity by promoting physical activity and improved nutrition. She created the Fast Track City Steering Committee to develop an HIV strategy to end the epidemic by 2030. With a majority Black population, New Orleans is especially hit hard by the underlying health issues which have caused the Black community to experience a higher death rate from COVID-19.
The Forward Together New Orleans Board is uniquely suited to help respond to the pandemic and its ensuing health disparities. Dr. Kathleen Kennedy is the Dean of the College of Pharmacy at Xavier University of Louisiana. In 2007, Dr. Kennedy organized the first national health disparities conference (which continues annually) for mid-level health care professionals. She served as the Director of the Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education during Hurricane Katrina until 2009. Dr.
Kennedy is also the Chair of the Greater New Orleans Chapter of the American Heart Association, and Chair of the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools.
“We’re in a moment of serious crisis for our city, and FTNO is committed to acting as a hub for business, government, and community-based organizations to work together on response and recovery. As a continuation of my work on health disparities, I am proud to support the Cantrell Administration’s efforts and will move quickly and decisively to help New Orleans recover again, as I did after Hurricane Katrina” said Dr. Kennedy.
Fellow Board Member Dr. Eric Griggs has a unique perspective as a community health expert. He is on the front lines of the pandemic as Director of Community Medicine at Access Health Louisiana, where he has been hosting regular Facebook lives to educate residents on COVID-19 preparedness, along with Infectious Diseases Physician Dr. MarkAlain Dery and Chief Medical Editor for WDSU, Dr. Corey Hebert. As a board member of the South Broad Community Health Center, formed in Mayor Cantrell’s own neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina, he is steeped in experience of how neighborhoods can lead the charge for recovery.
Board Member Dr. Silas Lee’s extensive knowledge of and experience with the social and cultural dynamics of urban society, as well as his expertise in both qualitative and quantitative data analysis, offer an important perspective for Forward Together New Orleans.
The organization has recently distributed grants to the City of New Orleans for other COVID-19 related projects. The Mayor’s Office of Youth and Families is using $30,000 toward providing infant and feminine hygiene products to families in need. They are also providing paid summer internships and year round programming for youth with juvenile justice involvement. That grant will provide the participants with hotspots, tablets, and or laptops so they can access resources and pursue workforce readiness training opportunities.