After a tumultuous week in the scandalous world of Kenner politics, Mayor Ben Zahn has rescinded his attempt to ban city money from being used on Nike branded products. The ban was immediately criticized by a member of Kenner’s City Council, Gregory Carroll, as well as New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell. The “ban” came only days after Nike released a new ad with Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback famous for his protests against police brutality and racial injustice, as the star of their Just Do It ad campaign. Kaepernick’s protest has been lauded as a powerful statement against racial oppression, but opponents see Nike’s extremely profitable move to include Kaepernick as a tacit endorsement of his political stance in support of the African American community. After Mayor Zahn’s memo was officially rescinded, Big Easy Magazine Spoke with Kenner City Councilman Gregory Carroll, to hear how he viewed the events.
A self-described “South Kenner boy”, Carroll is a fifth-generation resident of Kenner, where he attended school, church, and raised a family of his own. He began his political career when he was involved in community organizations but realized that political office was a more effective way to create change in his community, and represents one of five districts of Kenner, District 1.
On Saturday night at 11:30pm, Councilman Carroll saw the memo that Big Easy Magazine publicized: that of Mayor Zahn seeking to ban city funds from buying Nike branded products.
“I was at a retirement party, for a colleague,” said Carroll.
“I did not want to deal with this, I was supposed to be at this party. And at first, I couldn’t believe it. But I got Zahn on the phone, and I asked him, ‘did you write this memo?’ He answered in one word, ‘yes’, and that was all I needed. I hung up the phone.”
Later that night, Carroll drafted the response that would lead him to be interviewed by national and international press- a statement condemning the ban.
“I felt like to I had to respond,” he says simply.
And at least some members of the community were in complete agreement—a peaceful protest Monday against the ban had in attendance hundreds of community members and four of the New Orleans Saints.
Mayor Zahn, when he initially defended the ban, said that he did not want the city to endorse any companies that were “political”.
“But then, are you going to look at all companies’ political participation? A lot of companies make political contributions,” says Carroll. Indeed, in a country whose supreme court has ruled that money is equal to free speech, many corporations are very politically active. Yet only Nike—the company now linked to Kaepernick, and by extension the Black Lives Matter movement—was singled out as “political”.
When asked if Zahn considers his white identity to be politically “neutral” while other identities are “political”, Carroll underlines the importance of representation.
“I am the only black member of City Council in Kenner… until 25-30 years ago, there were only white males on the city council. I am the only member of City Council who looks like this. None of the other members have a black momma, a black daddy… They can’t speak to that experience.”
When asked if he was disappointed by his fellow council members’ silence, Carroll responds immediately.
“Perception is reality,” He says, and the African American and Latinx communities felt attacked by the ban. With the knowledge of this pain, he wrote his response to Zahn.
Kenner is 24 percent Black, and 22 percent Latinx, and 48 percent white. It is the fifth largest city in Louisiana, with a population of 66,702 as of the 2010 census. Carroll, who has been on the Kenner City Council since 2009, represents a district that is 50 percent black. He says the district was mapped that way to ensure some degree of fair representation on the council.
In the last election cycle, Carroll ran for mayor, ultimately coming in second to current mayor Zahn. He was the first African American person to make it to the runoff; Kenner has never had a mayor of color.
“I see that statement from Zahn coming from a situation where like-minded people only talk with like-minded people… and if you don’t hear something that challenges your beliefs, when you get to that microphone, you’re just going to hear static, and [your statement] is gonna be tone-deaf.”
So “tone deaf”, in fact, that the ACLU sent the city of Kenner a notice saying that the ban was a civil rights violation, and threatened to take legal action if the ban was not rescinded. From the beginning, some questioned whether the ban was even legal, if the mayor had the power to create the ban in the first place.
“It is my opinion… and the opinion of the lawyers that I spoke to… that he did not have that power,” Carroll said. He explained that the city is obligated to save on public funds by using the lowest-priced bids—regardless of the company, to save taxpayer money.
However, Carroll sees hope in the grim situation. People coming together, within Kenner and all around the world, has given him hope. Hope that the protests that Nike is currently linked to will remain a protected constitutional right. Hope that people outside of Kenner’s African American community care about these issues. He credits the public outcry, which reached far beyond Kenner, Louisiana, and even the US, with causing Zahn to walk back on his ban, which happened at four pm today.
When we first got on the phone, I asked him how he was doing.
“ A lot better,” he said
“As of four p.m. today, a lot better.”