Ballenger Highway

The strength, resilience, and testimony of Michell Thompson

FLINT, Michigan — As we stroll through downtown Flint on a sunny afternoon, the spirit of Michell Thompson radiates a certain kind of brilliance. She strikes several poses, extending a leg, tilting her head at the perfect angle, and easily positioning her arms. Her outfit, a combination of a cream-colored trench coat, black pants, and a burgundy shirt accessorized with glasses and a Teflar purse, is detective-inspired yet chic. But what impresses me is her infectious smile and how she weaves a story with wit and charm.

She explains that on her days off from working at Kettering University, she indulges in her passion for photography by being an “amateur photographer.” She loves to capture life’s moments, but sometimes it’s a double-edged sword. As we walk into Cafe Rhema, she confides that often, people don’t want her taking their photos mainly because she’s a perfectionist and her own worst critic.

Her perfection is evident in how she and photographer Anthony Summers discuss and adjust poses, deliberate if there is any reflection on her glasses, rearrange furniture, and share experiences working with different clientele. Despite the lighthearted atmosphere, Thompson's story is rich in resilience and determination.

Michell Thompson poses elegantly inside Cafe Rhema in downtown Flint on Nov. 18, 2023. (Anthony Summers |
She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) a few years ago, which has significantly altered the way she perceives herself, the world, and the City of Flint. However, the diagnosis has not stopped her but instead motivated her to aspire to achieve more.

Seated on the couch, she asserts, “I am not ashamed of my journey; it is my testimony.” That journey has led her to rediscover her love for writing, pick back up her camera, and realize that “my story may inspire others.”

Flintside met Thompson to discuss her love of writing and photography, her journey with MS, and her Flintstone resilience.

Flintside: When did you know that you were a good writer?

Michell Thompson: “People always tell me I can tell a good story. In college, I thought I wanted to be a [Criminal Justice] lawyer. In class, I would write stories, and my instructors would say, “Oh my God, Michell, you’re an excellent writer.’ They loved my stories, and I loved it. I’ve always liked to write and felt like I always had a story. I live in Flint, and I love Flint. I believe Flint is coming back, and I’m passionate about it.”

Flintside: Observing you, you have an eye for photography. How did that happen?

M. Thompson: “I’ve been taking pictures as far as I can remember. All the photos in my house, in my family’s house, come from me. I can’t remember who bought me my first camera. I looked back, and I said what is the one thing that has been consistent in my life? Photography. It’s just my thing. It’s the one thing that I can sit down and do, and I lose time. I lose myself in it. That’s what I do. I see beauty in my eye and want to capture what I see in my camera.”

Michell Thompson shares her battle with Multiple Sclerosis and the intricate moments of her life inside Cafe Rhema on Nov. 18, 2023. (Anthony Summers | However, life took over a bit. Did the passion for writing and photography leave?

M. Thompson: “For a while, I lost it — I stopped doing it. My husband died, and I put the camera away for years. I also put it away because most people don’t like having their pictures taken. Life threw me a curve ball, and unfortunately, [I was] diagnosed with MS five years ago. I’m fighting it. [But] as you can see, I’m walking. It’s been a struggle. I have [had] a lot of ups and downs in my life, and I had a pity party. But I said you know what? I can handle whatever life throws at me. The last couple of years were rough for me, but I felt I needed to do something.”

Flintside: Was this need to do something the inspiration for you to join the Community Correspondent class?

M. Thompson: “I saw [Flintside’s Community Correspondent Course], and it’d be me telling the stories of the community. I was looking for something to do. I was looking for some voice, and if that voice means when you open your email and say, ‘Oh, Michell wrote this story, and she went out in the community,’ I want that to be my part of saying I gave back. That’s where it came from: me jumping in because I didn’t feel fulfilled. I guess that’s why I need to jump in and do something. It’s all being part of something bigger than yourself. And let me correct you, I’m afraid, but I was afraid when I jumped in that ocean with the dolphins.”

“I [thought], 'Can a little Black girl from the north side of Flint with a little Associate’s Degree and a couple of years in UofM really do something like this?'” Michell Thompson reveals inside Cafe Rhema on Nov. 18, 2023. (Anthony Summers |
Flintside: It can be scary jumping into the unknown. Are you nervous about anything?

M. Thompson: “I like to stay on the safe side of the street. Yesterday, this sense of fear and depression came over. I was like, 'Michell, why are you doing this? You know you’re going to quit? You’re gonna freak, and this is gonna happen. What if your MS flares up? You know you have these lesions on your brain.' All of those little things came in. I [thought], 'Can a little Black girl from the north side of Flint with a little Associate’s Degree and a couple of years in UofM really do something like this?' So, I believe in being humble because I come from humble beginnings.” 

Flintside: I believe that God puts you in a position like this because there’s trust. So, what do you want to take away from this new experience that’s about to unfold?

M. Thompson: “I would like to have some articles published. [I want] to get out in the community and find out some things that’s going on. Get out, tell some stories, and share what’s going on with people who may not be aware of what’s [happening.] Even if it doesn’t last, I had an article published.”

Flintside: In closing, what’s the thing you believe best describes your life?

M. Thompson: “Resilience. My strength. I’ve had a lot of things come at me in life, but no matter what, I keep getting back up. I feel like everything has been my resilience.”
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Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.