Scott Atkinson: Highlighting the resilience and weirdness that make us Flint

The title “Happy Anyway” came to me while while reporting on a man who ran a homeless shelter on Flint’s northside. Pastor Bobby Jackson’s shelter, just a couple of blocks away from the former Buick City site, is called Mission of Hope—an appropriate name if there ever was one for someone doing the good work that needs to be done in Flint. You bet it’s a mission, and hope is a necessary part of the equation in a place like Flint, with its history and continued struggles. 

It’s also something Pastor Bobby has in plentiful supply. He may struggle with funding and had his water shut off, but he is a man who cannot be kicked down. He is a man who, when the metal door was stolen off his shelter for scrap (the very door meant to keep thieves out), could only say about the thieves, “God bless ’em!” After all, he said, they had only taken the door. 
He wasn’t just happy. He was happy despite the struggles around them, happy that he was in the thick of it. He was happy anyway. 

So I liked the title for a book of essays about Flint that I edited, but I prepared myself to toss it out. Maybe I was being too idealistic to talk about happiness. I was ready to be proven wrong. 

It turned out, the title worked. People sent me stories about lots of things—about homes they’d clung to or left behind, about urban farms, about stolen jewelry and the stories each pearl earring or pendant contained, about being mugged, about a friend being shot, about dance. Some made me laugh, and others were heartbreaking. But all these people with their various stories—people who did not all know each other, who had no idea what anyone else might be writing, carried one theme. Despite their struggles, they continued to find happiness in one form or another. Often they found it in the very act of facing of those struggles. But what it really reminded me is that Flint, even though it’s like no place else, is also like every place else in that it has its own community and culture. Beyond the headlines the rest of the world sees, we know there’s an entire world right here and that it deserves to be celebrated. I hope that’s what I did with “Happy Anyway” and what I hope to do now with Flintside. 

I’ve been reporting and writing about this city since before I graduated from college about a dozen years ago with a journalism degree. In that time, I have amassed my own share of stories—some funny, some serious, some sad, all highlighting the resilience and weirdness that make this city what it is. 

If that sounds like some Pollyanna-like attempt to sweep the city’s very real issues under the rug, it’s not. In fact—having written my share of them—I’m thankful for every news report that comes out that highlights issues in the city that need to be addressed. This and the other columns I will share in Flintside are just something different. It is a chance to sit around the digital campfire and have story time with Scott, sharing some laughs or memories or ideas about the city that, in all its strange ways, continues to connect us. 

Happy reading. 
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