Ebony Stith: Why the Flint Registry matters to us all

Ebony Stith’s fight is personal. She is a daughter of Flint, a mother of Flint, and a resident of Flint. She is fueled by her love of family and passion for her city in the crusade to make sure everyone affected by the Flint water crisis is counted, provided services they need, and receives long-term support to determine other possibly not-yet-known impacts of increased lead levels.

Stith, 42, serves as the communications manager for the Flint Registry — a project of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the famed Hurley pediatrician who brought the Flint water crisis to light by proving lead levels in Flint kids were rising.

“This is affecting me and my family personally, and I was just as angry and frustrated as everyone else in the community,” Stith says.

The Flint Registry is modeled after a registry created after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Pre-enrollment is ongoing at flintregistry.org and everyone who consumed Flint water during the water crisis is encouraged to sign up. It is voluntary.

Stith is the daughter of two well-known Flint artists, Eddie and Marcia Watkins. She attended Pierce Elementary and Flint Central High School before graduating from Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. 
During college and after graduating, Stith worked as a designer for The Flint Journal, helping to layout the daily newspaper and putting her artistic talents to work. She went on to work at The Palm Beach Post and Orlando Sentinel, before returning to Flint and founding the magazine “Tween Girl Style Magazine.” Just prior to coming to the registry, Stith worked as a digital content manager for NBC25/Fox66. 
“I was working in Flint at the time of the water crisis. My family being here and living here devastated me, just like everyone else,” says Stith, who is also raising her children, Erin, 17, and Derrin, 10, here in Flint. “I was reporting the news, but I was living it as well.” 
Hearing and reporting the devastation hit her in a way she couldn’t have imagined, driving Stith to take action herself.  She decided to take a leap of faith and become actively involved in the recovery process.
“It was one of those things, like, should I or shouldn’t I? But I wanted to apply because it was something be a part of, be a part of the solution, be a part of the recovery — to get my family, me, and the community in general help. I wanted to be a part of the solution instead of just reporting the issues. I am able to make a difference, I’m able to see a difference, and to help us recover.” 
But it will always be more than just a job to Stith. 
“People are still very upset and understandably. I want to help to be that voice to say, ‘You’re not forgotten,’” Stith says. 
Now, she works with a team that has the same passion she does and allows her to put her communications skills to use. And, in a unique twist, Stith is back in the very same building where her career started. 

The former Flint Journal building is now home to Michigan State University’s College of Health and Medicine in Flint. It is also home to the Flint Registry, which is funded through a $14.4 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to MSU.  
The Flint Registry offices are on the second floor, in the space that used to be The Journal’s lunchroom. Stith is one of the first employees to be brought on board. Hiring is ongoing for the massive office space the full team will eventually occupy. 
“We are a great team. We have a common goal. We want to get Flint healthy, moving in the right direction, support and uplift,” Stith says. “It is a really good feeling that everyone is here to do good work.” 
The Flint Registry effort will more formally launch in the fall. Stiths job as communications manager is to make sure the community recognizes the importance of signing up for The Flint Registry. The registry will include anyone exposed to Flint water during the crisis — including residents as well as any individuals who worked, went to school, or spent time in Flint. It is for people of all ages.
“Going out into the community and just listening, hearing the echoing how I’ve already felt. Letting the community know, we are here to help them get what they need. Being a part of something like this under Dr. Mona’s lead is awesome.”

For more information on the Flint Registry, go to flintregistry.org or check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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