Erica founded The Braveheart Foundation which is focused on providing healthcare to underserved countries. Her main focus has been Uganda. Recently Erica has shifted her service efforts locally, following Hurricane Ida’s destruction of her hometown Laplace, LA. She is partnering with Grammy Nominated, Golden Globe Award-winning singer and actress Andra Day to host hurricane relief and home rebuilding across Louisiana.
Can you tell us more about who Erica Rogers is?
I am a black woman who lives a life to pay forward what a generation of black women leaders have paved the way for me to continue. I stand on the shoulders of powerful black women who have endured battle wounds and heart scars but beyond the pain it was understood that the assignment was much bigger, and the reward was greater. The black woman has been foundational in building this nation and is a vital part in shaping our communities. I passionately and purposely live to carry on that legacy.
I am the founder of Braveheart Foundation and a global healthcare advocate. I am a critical care registered nurse on the frontline by trade and community leader at heart. I dedicate my time and skills to medical advancements and the sustainable development in Uganda Africa.
Have you always had the desire to help others when you were younger that led you to become an RN?
“BECOMING” a nurse is a part of a LEGACY. I was MADE for this! I am a part of a generational lineage of “FRONTLINE SHEROES”! So blessed to take the torch of leadership and legacy from two “GIANTS” who paved the way for black nurses such as myself. Mary Smith Douglas(great- aunt), RN and 1st Lieutenant and Frontline nurse during WWll. Mary Laverne Smith Aguillard(aunt) RN-Former Regional Nurse Supervisor in Southeast Louisiana and Frontline SHERO during Hurricane Katrina. I watched her spend countless hours outlying the landscape for disaster preparedness that shaped healthcare and disaster relief throughout the state during hurricane Katrina. I was in awe of her leadership! She still continues to be a community and healthcare activist fighting for equitable healthcare during the fight against the invisible enemy (COVID-19) in her community. I honor both of my aunts for bearing burdens of suffrage for me and many others to take part in changing the world and shaping society.
Can you tell us more about your foundation The Braveheart and what motivated you to start it?
I started a career at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2008. Driven by the quote, “Compassion is the highest level of intellect”, I loved my job right away, but soon became interested in venturing outside the walls of the hospital to participate in community outreach work. After developing a close and lasting relationship with a patient in cancer treatment, I understood what was tugging at my heartstrings— I knew that I could be doing more. I was moved by my patient’s continuum and enthusiasm in helping others in spite of what she was experiencing in her own life. In her honor, Braveheart Foundation was created as a peer-to-peer support system that helped patients and their families cope with the process of cancer treatment. The project’s success inspired me to pursue similar endeavors on a larger scale. In 2014, relocating back to Louisiana with plans to embark on a mission trip to Africa I joined a small group of clinicians in Uganda, providing essential medical care to dozens of people. After that trip, Braveheart became a worldwide mission. Braveheart has a mission to promote health education, equitable health services, and sustainable health programming to underserved and marginalized communities worldwide. Acute medical, vision, dental, women’s health, and podiatry are the specialties that are provided in the free medical clinics. Since the inception of Braveheart in 2014, over seven thousand villagers have been impacted with free health services during the annual medical missions. Braveheart foundation uses minimal funding and resources to impact many by providing mass drug administration and in-depth health education in the most desolate villages of Uganda. Braveheart has a partnership with Smiling Hearts orphanage in Lake Buyonyi, Uganda. Braveheart supplies the orphanage with a yearly supply of medications in the kiddie pharmacy while also providing yearly well-kid health check-ups, malaria, dental and vision screening with necessary treatment.
What led you to begin your foundation focus in Uganda?
Early on as a child I was oriented to the impact of global partnerships between third world and first world countries. I witnessed my uncle, who is the Dean of the College of Business at my alma mater, Southern University A&M College, work to bridge the entrepreneurial and economic gap between third world countries—specifically dedicated to the economic development in Uganda. His determination for giving back and building economic infrastructure in the Ugandan villages led to the collaborative partnership between Southern University College of Business of Baton Rouge, La and Makerere University of Kampala, Uganda. Through this partnership students from both universities were given opportunities to study abroad gaining knowledge and perspective on each other’s entrepreneurial infrastructure while still providing Ugandan businesses resources to build on what was needed for the economic industry to thrive.
Quite naturally, building on the seeds that were already planted made the most sense to me— after being given the option to serve other third world countries. After my first visit in 2014, my heart broke as I rode through the villages and witnessed the poverty and later learned the average lifespan of a Ugandan is 45 years old. My focus was not to do mission work to “just help”! My focus was to create programming and initiatives that make a sustainable impact in healthcare. This is done by utilizing the Ugandan village and healthcare leaders for community assessments, strategic planning and the implementation of the short- and long-term missions.
Now that you’ve brought your foundation stateside, what changes are you focused on making?
Braveheart will be focused on expanding our COVID 19 mitigation plan through implementing initiatives with testing and vaccination pop-up community clinics in unreachable land locked communities in the United States.
Braveheart also plans to continue expanding on disaster relief efforts particularly hurricane relief in Louisiana. Being prepared on the ground prior to the catastrophe with satellite relief centers designated for health, wellness and recovery.
Being a native of Louisiana, did you find it as your motivation to bring your foundation to Louisiana?
Most Definitely! In March 2020, the world shifted as we faced the deadly covid-19 pandemic. The frontlines is where I knew I belonged fighting with those in my state. Early on I realized that the highly transmissible virus disproportionately affected the black community worldwide. Louisiana came off the heels of the Mardi Gras holiday as the pandemic swept across the nation leaving Louisiana hammered by default due to the massive crowds of people celebrating the Louisiana holiday from all over the world. Louisiana was then known worldwide as the epicenter of the pandemic for many weeks to follow. Needless to say, Mardi Gras was very unconventional in 2021 canceling parades across the state.
Braveheart was unable to return to Uganda during this time. The organization took a quick pivot by going into communities to build capacity and bring awareness to the available resources around Louisiana that provide education and treatments that are geared towards mitigating the health disparities linked to the high mortality rate from covid-19. Education and awareness was brought to unreachable, land-locked and hard hit communities in different parts of Louisiana. Braveheart Foundation founded the “Krewe of Vax” Vaccination Parade. The vision for the “vaccination parade” campaign is to promote equitable widespread dissemination of the covid- 19 vaccine to help mitigate the rapid transmission of the virus in vulnerable populations. The vaccination parade mission was founded with a goal to bring joy and anticipation for a safe return of Mardi Gras back to Louisiana while making a record milestone impact by educating and administering vaccinations to communities in Louisiana. Mardi Gras and parading is symbolic to Louisiana’s culture and preservation which aligns with Governor John Bel Edwards pilot campaign “Bring Louisiana Back”. Braveheart also focuses on educating businesses, educational and governmental leaders on covid-19 safe protocols for gatherings, events, and safe schooling through urging the importance of testing and vaccinations.
Can you tell us more about hurricane relief and home rebuilding across Louisiana?
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida (2021), Braveheart immediately put boots on the ground to help with relief efforts in hardest hit areas, one of which is my home town of Laplace, Louisiana. The team partnered with local government and facilitated a “Catastrophe Can’t Stop Us” drive- through event— distributing much needed household items, hot meals, free wifi, stimulus gift cards, and governmental disaster support resources while offering encouragement for hope in a dignified recovery as residents start to rebuild their homes and lives. During this time programming was curated to protect the devastated areas environmental health and economic sustainability. Braveheart led a “Clean Sweep” initiative that resulted in 240 tons of trash collected in St. John Parish. Other initiatives—such as economic stimulus payment distributions with a focus on elderly and disabled residents while also designing programs for small businesses to receive micro grants. These programs were created to meet the immediate economic needs of the communities served. The initiatives garnered much success which led to a “Catastrophe Can’t Stop US Tour” tour where Braveheart facilitated several mass distributions and donations throughout the devastated areas in southeast Louisiana. Life has moved forward for some communities while other communities are still fighting for the hope of a better day. In efforts to meet this need, Braveheart has consulted with philanthropic leaders regarding funding opportunities to assist the uninsured and underinsured folks in devastated areas to support home rebuild initiatives.
You also partnered with Grammy Nominated, Golden Globe Award-winning singer and actress Andra Day to host the powerful event. Can you tell us how that came about?
The partnership between Braveheart Foundation and the Andra Day Team was simply a “divine” connection. At the time of Hurricane Ida’s arrival and during the immediate aftermath, I was working a Covid travel assignment in New York City. Watching the devastation happening in my own home community left me heartbroken. I wanted to be there! I wanted to help! I called a very close family friend who is also a Councilwoman in Laplace Louisiana serving in the district that was most devastated. Councilwoman expressed how the community needed resources and that it would take efforts from every angle for the community to be able to transition into the recovery phase.
The devastation caught the attention of Andra Day, and like me-— she wanted to be there, and she wanted to help! Andra was advised by counterparts that Laplace/St.John the Baptist Parish needed the help. Andra sought out the Councilwoman for a subjective assessment on what the immediate needs were. Braveheart, being a local nonprofit, was added to the team to assist in nonprofit consultation, volunteer outreach, logistical program planning and program management for the post Hurricane Ida disaster initiatives. Councilwoman led the team advising us on governmental ordinances and strategic local partnerships. After our first phone meeting, we all were assured of two things— alignment and assignment! We instantly became a threefold team. The meeting led to accelerated planning and execution of the first disaster recovery distribution event which happened in a 5-day time span. This was me and Andra’s first sighting of the devastation. The community was desolate, and the heart of the community was crushed. The team committed to continuing the work, to do as much as we can to target the areas of the most concern. As stated in the aforementioned question, our efforts were extended throughout the most devastated communities throughout southeast Louisiana. I am most proud of this work and to be a part of this movement with dynamic leaders in philanthropy and humanitarianism.
– Food security:
1500–free hot meals
– Economic sustainability:
300– $100 stimulus gift cards and 150–$25 stimulus gift cards
– Environmental health sustainability:
240 tons of trash removed during the Operation Clean Sweep Initiative utilizing local trash and demolition companies.
– 5 large scale distribution:
Events supplying residents with disaster recovery items over—100 pallets of much needed post disaster items
– COVID-19 mitigation:
Mobile vaccination and mobile Covid-19 testing as well as Covid-19 education provided
– Technology disparity:
Southern University A&M college Mobile Tech Unit supplied free wifi to residents within a 4 mile radius at each distribution event
– Disaster Recovery Resource:
Louisiana Works representatives on site at events for residents to be assisted with disaster relief benefits.
Do you have any additional events coming up that you can speak about?
Braveheart is still working on Hurricane Ida disaster relief efforts in communities in Louisiana that are struggling to recover. Some residents are still living in garages and tents and unable to receive hot meals. We are also continuing our work with governmental agencies and other nonprofit entities in the fight to mitigate and prepare communities for Covid-19 surges through making robust testing available and encouraging vaccination.
If safety permits, Braveheart will be returning to Uganda with our team of medical professionals in July 2022. Our plan is to work closely with the Ugandan Ministry of Health and Village leaders on Covid-19 mitigation. Sourcing funds for Covid-19 education to nursing schools and medical schools in efforts for community dissemination. Plans to provide resources for hygiene/sanitizer stations, PPE distribution sites, and pop-up testing centers in unreachable villages that are forgotten about. Our focus will be to utilize what is tangible until there is enough vaccination supply.
What would you like our viewers to gain from this interview?
I would like to bring awareness to our community of readers/viewers that there is a black, women led organization implementing change in black communities worldwide. It is important we leverage our own talents and gifts to build legacy and promote healing in our own communities. That is what Braveheart is.
It is very important that there is an awareness that such organizations exist in efforts to gain support and influence to continue to create transformative change stateside and in Africa.
The Nigerian artist quoted it best when he was awarded the BET Award for Best International Act, “Now is the time to overturn that and go back to the royalty that we were. Because in order for black lives to matter, Africa must matter.” -Burner Boy
How can people connect with you and everything you have going on?
For information on our organization and our efforts visit our website at : www.mybraveheart.org or to get involved email us directly email@example.com. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @braveheartfoundation.
All images by Carris Gould of New York