When Latisha Jones, a Flint native and Genesee Early College student, discusses the need for safe housing in Flint, she speaks from experience.
Jones led one of five groups in the National Clean Water Collective’s third annual Pen PALs Youth Forum on August 16. The forum featured five groups of high school students -- most of them from Flint -- tasked with presenting creative solutions to challenging issues in Flint and cities like it all over the country. Jones’ group presented on unsafe housing, and in their video presentation, she stood in front of her childhood home, which is now in disrepair.
“The home is the most important part of raising a family,” she said.
The other groups were focused on the following topics: water pollution, air pollution, inadequate access to healthy food, and inadequate access to transportation.
The event was organized by the National Clean Water Collective, and featured guest speakers and team mentors from around the country. The theme, though, was simple: that young people have the creative ideas and energy to help solve grand problems in their communities.
“The goal is to find longterm solutions for Flint,” said Syrah Scott, executive chairman of the National Clean Water Collective, during the presentations. “But also to replicate them and help communities across the world.”
Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley and Michigan Representative Cynthia Neeley also addressed the participating students.
“The future belongs to you,” Mayor Neeley said. “Thank you for taking ownership and responsibility for your community.”
Actor Hill Harper, who has supported water distributions in Flint throughout the water crisis and recovery, also addressed the students.
“We can’t have racial or gender or LGBTQ+ equity or equity for the poor without environmental justice,” Hill said. “Marginalized communities are hit the hardest and take the brunt from pollution and environmental racism.”
Team members were:
Water pollution team: Antonio Sweeney (team leader), Nariya Clark, Ruby Wilson, Davontae Williams, Kameron Motley
Air pollution team: Addison Peter (team leader), Harmony Kline, Joanna Stockton, John DeWitt Walsh, Lexi Martin
Inadequate access to healthy food team: Melodie Marsh (team leader), Leah Jones, Imani Johnson, Amari Smoots, Omari McClain
Inadequate access to transportation: Anshbir Soin (team leader), Armman Jhamb, Ayush Gupta, Pal Patel, Pranav Thota
Unsafe homes team: Latisha Jones (team leader), Satoria Burns, Aaron Hall, Hailee Clack, Ariella Manuel
Four of the five teams have members from Flint and the surrounding area. The first place team, the transportation team, is based in New Jersey. They received a stipend and will receive product development mentoring from 100K Ideas, a Flint-based nonprofit that helps people take creative ideas to market.
“We won’t let the city of Flint down,” Soin said.