We heard Joel Meredith before we met him. We were in Flint to meet with Michael Hood, one of the founders of Crossing Water, an organization that works with other nonprofit agencies to make sure all Flint residents have access to safe drinking water. Hood was conducting a volunteer training — he was wrapping up and about 100 volunteers — most of them from Michigan State University– were offering questions and comments. When we walked in, a young man was standing in the back giving an impassioned speech on why he lives in Flint. “It’s my moral choice and duty to remain in Flint. Sure, Flint is f___d up but it is rich in history.” And that’s how we met Joel Meredith.

Meredith grew up in an affluent area in Ada, near Grand Rapids. College educated, Meredith ended up working in Flint before the water became a problem. At first, he didn’t pay attention to the change in the water and continued to drink the water at work (he lives just outside the city of Flint so is unaffected at home). It wasn’t until a co-worker noticed a change in the water filtration that Meredith “woke up” as he says to the problem with Flint’s water. That led him to protesting and volunteering.

“If you look at Flint’s history, you find out it gave us the middle class—the middle class began here. Community education got its start here,” Meredith said. “Flint residents have been living without clean water for over two years — it’s like a third world country,” said Meredith.

He speaks passionately and says how amazing Flint is, despite all it has gone through. “When everything is taken away, all we have is each other,” Meredith said. “Some people don’t have water heaters (editor’s note: the lead and other chemicals erode the heaters) and have been taking cold baths and showers for over two years.”

Meredith continues to volunteer every chance he gets.

“We are only starting to see the effects of the lead poisoning—this is the first generation—but since the poison stays in your body, it will become a generational problem,” Meredith said.

But out of this tragedy, Meredith has seen courage, resilience and activism—and along the way people he now calls friends.

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