Editor’s Note: As promised, we continue to devote a page to Flint. We wish we could say the situation has vastly improved—it has not. But the resilience of the people in a town known for fighting for the rights of the common individual shines brightly.
This month we visited three women in the basement of St. Mike’s Catholic Church. The place is a hub of activity—volunteers come and go from different meetings. Crossing Water, a nonprofit group from Ann Arbor is housed here since the water crisis and it is home to Michigan Faith in Action (MFA) whose mission is to build a faith-based movement to transform Michigan. MFA brings people of all faiths, institutions and organizations together to build community and to address the root causes and results of poverty, violence and division. MFA is associated with and a member of People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO). PICO is a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities. Both organizations have 501c3 status.
Sharon Allen is the Resource and Fund Development Director for MFA. Born and raised in Flint, she has been a community activist most of her life. She greets us warmly and we pass through a large room filled with cases of water, filters, diapers, baby wipes and hand sanitizers. One wall is covered with paper charts with all kinds of notes—evidence that a brain-storming meeting took place not too long ago. We enter a larger room with a huge table—Sharon’s office is nearby and we know immediately how busy she is by the phones ringing and people passing through with questions—it is clear she is an organizer.
“When I voted in November, 2011, I came home to find that Governor Snyder had appointed an emergency manager to Flint. Why the hell did I vote? I still get upset thinking about it,” Allen said. Although in 2013 the MFA approved a master plan to help Flint, the water crisis has obviously forced MFA to help with the immediate needs of Flint residents. With Crossing Water, they canvass homes every weekend. At this writing, they have knocked on over 10,000 doors and had conversations with over 5,000 people. They have never seen anyone from the governor’s office here. How does Allen get through the day as someone who can’t drink the water? “A lot of prayer and a lot of cussing,” she said.Nakiya Wakes moved to Flint from Indiana in 2014—right when the water crisis was underway—but she didn’t know that. She has two children—Nashauna, 17, and Jaylon, seven. Both have tested positive for lead. She became pregnant with twins in March 2015 and had complications from the beginning. Not only did she drink Flint water (before the warnings) but she still boiled and cooked with the water because at the time, residents didn’t know that was unsafe also. In June 2015 she miscarried one but lost the second twin July 30, nearly dying. The day she got home from the hospital the letter from the city of Flint saying pregnant women and people over 55 should not drink the water arrived in the mail. “Then my son began having problems in school. In kindergarten, he had one infraction the whole year,” Wakes said. She then carefully opens a folder she placed on the table and shows me the school’s report on her son, now a first grader. It’s three pages long. “This year—and the school year isn’t over—my son has 56 infractions. He has difficulty concentrating and hates school,” she said. We asked her why she just didn’t move back to Indiana. “I thought about it—but I can’t leave my friends and their children. We have a support group—we have to keep on fighting for each other—we need all the pipes replaced and health care and education for our kids,” she said. Indeed, it was the water crisis that made Wakes an activist. She is the mother bear protecting her cubs—and she is just one of many. “You know, the Attorney General of the United States visited my home—asked me questions — showed me concern. But when a group of us went to Washington and asked to meet with Snyder before the hearing, he refused. He still refuses to meet with us,” she said. Desiree Duell is also a single mother of a son—not yet tested for lead. Born and raised in Flint, she describes herself as ‘an interdisciplinary artist” and as she writes on her website” believes art can be a tool to engage, strengthen and heal communities.” Her piece—“A Body of Water” (www.abodyofwater.net) was a community participatory art experience in response to the Flint water crisis. She holds a BFA in sculpture from Maine College of Art and a Master’s of Art in community arts from Maryland Institute College of Art. She never told us that—we had to look on her website. She is currently without a job in her profession and hoping to raise the money for the MFA program at the University of Hartford where she has already been accepted. Today she is all about being an activist. She sits next to Wakes and nods her head in confirmation occasionally as Wakes talks to us.
When Wakes tells us why she won’t return to Indiana—that she has to stay to support her friends and fight, Duell emphatically says, ”What is phenomenal about this crisis is that it is a women-led movement—all women, all ages, all races—are fighting for this cause—the right to clean water.” Between 2003 and 2011, Duell lived in nine different states, going to school and working on community art projects. She came back to be near family. “I have lived in New York and many other cities but no city knows how to organize the way Flint does. Flint historically is the seat of revolution. We know how to petition and how to organize,” Duell says with pride in her voice.
For more information on how to help Flint, go to our website and click HERE.