Residents gather, renew calls for justice on 7-year anniversary of Flint water crisis

FLINT, Michigan -- April 25, 2021, marked seven years since the Flint Water Crisis began. Although some improvements to the city’s water system have been made, the city of Flint is still working to replace lead service lines in some portions of the city. The long-term impact of lead exposure on the physical and mental health of Flint children and residents is also still unknown. The distrust of government and other institutions that failed the city and its residents also lingers.

On the anniversary of the beginning of the crisis, Flint residents gathered outdoors together for an event coordinated through Flint H20 Justice at the former Flint Farmer’s Market building located on Chavez Drive near downtown Flint. The event included a lantern lighting ceremony, music, and a lineup of speakers that included Flint epidemiologist Jasmine Hall, Salem Lutheran Church Pastor and community activist Monica Villareal, Flint first ward councilman Eric Mays, and more. 

Hall read a letter written to elected officials about the ongoing water crisis. The letter demands recognition and appropriate compensation for effects on the lives of Flint residents. One of the requests reads that, “Any child or adult who had a Flint address, school record, day-care record, or work history during the time of the water switch should be considered exposed and should be compensated fairly regardless of whether they have medical documentation.”

“People in Flint are resilient and that gives me hope that we can continue to fight for clean water,” said fifth ward councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter. 

"It's just sort of become a part of our lives to think about water as a daily thing.” - Flint resident Vivian KaoVivian Kao moved to Flint in 2015, and has been raising her two children in the College Cultural Neighborhood. 

“When we first moved here, we didn't know much about the water crisis. My older son was three-and-a-half and we just had him drinking out of the faucet for months before we realized it. Thankfully his lead test came back normal, but. we don't know how he was affected.”

Kao also noted that many families had extreme cost burdens related to making water filtration upgrades or replacing damaged appliances or faucets in their homes.

“We had to make major upgrades to our home,” she said. “Including changing out our entire kitchen faucet, just to be able to put on filters. We've had to kind of plan shopping trips around getting filters and putting them on. And so it's just sort of become a part of our lives to think about water as a daily thing.”

Pastor Villareal spoke passionately about the water crisis and her own personal experiences working with the community surrounding her church on the northside of Flint. Villareal has collaborated with several local philanthropic organizations including the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to help local residents suffering from hunger and a lack of access to food. She has also facilitated free testing for city residents and continues to be a major resource to anyone in need. 
“Water is a human right not a privilege.” - Pastor Monica Villareal“The impacts of poverty have really impacted those families who are also highly impacted by COVID,” Villareal said.  “A lot of that has to do with the environmental justice issues and the impact of the environment upon your health and your well-being. We know that those issues also run along the same lines as environmental racism. When you look at zip codes, it's mapped along with race as well. Our community is deeply impacted because of the pandemic, People are just not able to come together. One of the big things we don't see is the connection to others and instead a disconnect to resources.”

The lantern lighting ceremony was intended to honor all residents and people who have been impacted and suffered as a result of the water crisis. Quincy Murphy, 47, a Flint resident and activist, helped prepare the lanterns for send-offs. 
This water crisis didn’t need to happen.” - Quincy Murphy“I came here today because I lived through the Flint water crisis and I'm a homeowner during the Flint water crisis,” Murphy said. “This water crisis didn’t need to happen.”

As the lanterns blew away, ceremony attendants observed  a moment of silence as well. 

Winfery-Carter also noted the mental health toll that the water crisis has taken on Flint residents.
“People in Flint are resilient and that gives me hope that we can continue to fight for clean water." - councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter“What I see is a city of depression,” she said. “I think that the water crisis situation has not helped matters along with the blight and the lack of public safety. All of these things are impacting our city.”

Residents in attendance pledged to continue fighting.

“Water is a human right not a privilege,” Villareal said.

Read more articles by Jenifer Veloso.

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