When I tell folks that I’m from Flint, Michigan, their heads turn sideways much like a dog’s head does at the sound of a high pitch. Eyes widen. This is what I’m used to, especially since moving out of Michigan in 2014 when I started my graduate work in Ohio. I try to imagine what it’s like to meet someone from somewhere I’ve never been–maybe a place that’s always in the news–and what my initial thoughts are. This typically helps me understand where people are coming from, although I will say that many have struggled to hide their reactions to the words “Flint” and “Michigan” coming from my voice.
“Are you really from Flint?”
“The same Flint that has the water problem?”
“What’s that like?”
Most people I’ve met haven’t been to Flint before. They’ve seen things in news articles and on some of the same screens that you’re probably reading this article now. Most people don’t know what they don’t know. I smile and politely answer their questions.
“Is your family affected?”
“Why do you tell people that’s where you’re from?”
“By Flint, do you mean a suburb?”
Some questions are honest. People are trying to understand where I come from. I’m more than happy to illuminate the dark spots for people’s understanding of what’s really happening in the city I hold close to my heart.
It’s hard to understand what a home is to people. A place where people are born, a place where much of one’s identity is shaped, where bonds are created and destroyed, memories of better days behind us–these intersect and create a definition unique to each of us. We are the culmination of everything we’ve been, how it has impacted us, and what we choose to see through the tall grass.
Some questions aren’t actually questions, but poor-intended jokes. Jaw-clenching. Unnerving. A number of encounters begin with the pursing of lips to hold back what they’re actually thinking in favor of a more respectful response. Some go like this:
“How’s the water?”
*Laughs at own joke*
*Turns to see if others are laughing*
*See me not laughing*
Think back 500 days ago.
Since then, how many times have you turned on your faucet and clean water came out? How many times have you filled a cup with water to drink after a run or before bed? How many times have you bathed? Watered the plants? Made coffee? Brushed your teeth?
Now double the days.
How many times have you done all of that in the last 1000 days?
Now imagine having to do that with just bottled water.
Now imagine still getting a water bill–imagine having to pay for water that is unusable. Filled with lead that can cause serious harm to your bodies.
Flint residents have lived this reality since April of 2014. Young bodies and old alike have been exposed to a reality that they didn’t want, and they’re paying for what they don’t deserve.
Officials have estimated that bottled water will be the way of life for Flint families until at least 2020. A thousand (+) more days of unbelievable hell. An unfathomable reality to those who don’t have the think twice; something these people are forced to live with on a daily basis.
If you can’t imagine this as a reality, I invite you to live the next 10 days without using the faucets in your home. 10 days. That’s it; a small sample of time for something to become normalized.
Buy bottled water. Use it for everything. Everything.
Visit Flint, Michigan. Talk with residents. Educate yourself on their experiences. Live in their shoes for a little while.
And when someone tells you they’re from Flint, let it serve as a reminder that a hometown is more than what you see in the news. Real people like you with honest stories like yours inhabit that space. And they’re fighting for a reality that’s different.
Though the focal point has shifted, know that there are still ways you can help make a difference. For more information on how you can help, visit www.helpforflint.com.
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