Casey Kasem. Terry Crews. Michael Moore. Jon Connor. Mark Ingram, Jr. Ready For The World. E. Lynn Harris. Claressa Shields. What do all of these icons have in common with me? We are all from Flint, Michigan—the city that once was only mentioned in the national news for its high levels of crime and violence, the city that sadly was forgotten.
Today, news feeds and social media are overloaded with talks of my hometown. Flint is strong. Flint is proud. Flint Lives Matter. As a city that has always stood proud regardless of being slighted in previous news coverage, today the discussion is centered on poor leadership choices and their tragic effects on a community; specifically, any mention of Flint begins with how, in 2014, the city rerouted its water supply from Lake Huron (Detroit) to the Flint River to save money.
I remember a running joke from my adolescence about the Flint River. We always laughed at the fact there were probably dead bodies in the river. Whenever we went past it we would hold our noses. But we were just kids. What did we know? After all, I took my high school senior pictures at Stepping Stone Falls, an outlet to the Flint River.
In a city of almost 100,000, 56.6% identify as black or African American; 52% of the population is female; and 41.5% live below poverty level. This is not a Third World Country, yet the poison in the water supply begs for answers to questions of how much do we care about our citizens, and why was the proper research not conducted before disaster struck.
President Obama declared a State of Emergency in Flint on January 16, 2016. While this is important, it came months, years too late to save residents from harm and a situation that residents and out of state loved ones were already aware of. What happens after you blow the whistle?
Speaking with Laura Rahmaad, the Director of Nutritional Services for Genesee County Community Action Resource Department, whom I refer to as “mom,” I became aware of the potential dangers my family and friends were facing in the summer of 2015 during my last visit to my hometown.
“This started about a year ago, the first announcement was made in January 2015. In October 2015, our agency went onto action after the state was called into a State of Emergency. The degree of lead was just too high. We have passed out filters, filter refills, and bottled water daily to all Flint residents. Agencies from all over have joined in,” Ms. Rahmaad stated. “This has been a tragedy to the residents and citizens of our city. We pray that our children and citizens do not suffer for years to come.”
Then I thought, I better talk to my childhood friend. He has been doing amazing things in the community, especially when it comes to repurposing abandoned buildings and taking care of the elderly. I’m sure he knows something new. But like everyone else, he sparked into action in the midst of his shock. Glenn Wilson, President and CEO of Communities First, Inc., stated, “Often seniors have more difficulty with transportation and lack of strength to lift packages of bottled water. We are hopeful that the needs of Flint’s most vulnerable and underserved residents will be met. When it comes to lead, there can be long term health impacts that we will not know to be true until much later.”
Everyone I talked to was focused on helping immediately, but were also worried about their future and how the problem would be solved. Black lives are at stake here. All lives are at stake here. How long will clean water be available from volunteers? How long will citizens have to bathe with bottled water? Who is to blame?
While all of this information comes with shock, sadness, and finger pointing, Flint needs more than bottled water. Flint needs more than prayer.
“There has not been a focus on changing the infrastructure of the system to really make change. We are spending money on supplying water and water refills but are not dealing with the underlying issue of pipeline corrosion and bad leadership. If we call water bottles and water filters a bailout, we are ignoring the bottom line. Until we see bulldozers tearing out corroded pipes, we do not have a plan for our future. Our president has provided $8 million to the state of Michigan; however, Flint does not see all of that money,”Quincy Murphy, Flint Charter Review Commissioner and 20-year community activist explained.
“Our property value has greatly decreased. People are losing their homes at alarming rates. Water bills skyrocketed in 2011, causing community citizens to have liens placed on their homes,” he continued. “Who wants to pay a water bill for water that they cannot drink and cannot use? It is environmental racism. In 10 years there will not be too many of us here left.”
Murphy finished by offering a solution: “The real solution lies in creating employment for those passing out water, to not burn out volunteers. To fix this problem, we need more than water. The governor of Michigan needs to go! He does not deserve three years in office. I have filed a recall on him. He has destroyed our community.”
Most of us do not want to think about gentrification. Most people have never witnessed a city change (decline) so drastically in 30 years. But that is the reality of Flint, Michigan, a city that more than deserves a real solution.
Jamillah Rahmaad is a Public Relations Consultant and Entertainment Journalist located in Atlanta, GA. In 2013, she founded Soukle, an organization specifically designed to engage professionals after work. Check out her weekly podcast, E Is For Eff It! She enjoys journalism on topics such as profiled interviews, special events, and business topics. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Jai_Soapbox.