Hello everyone! It’s Kye blogging from Flint. Last time, I wrote about the Water Crisis. Although it’s a super messed up situation, things are starting to turn around. Citizens are starting to learn about capacity-building and how they can have an impact in their city. Also, there is an NCCC team stationed here that works with water distribution. #GetThingsDone
My mind is still pumped from our Russ Mawby project in Flint. I had nothing to do with the planning, but I am very satisfied with our project. Our SSP was hosted at Brownell-Holmes STEM Academies, which is where I spend half of my week. Our SSP was a Community Fun Day that had campus beautification occurring at the same time.
We were broken up into multiple teams. Direct service members handled activity stations with families and community members. We had a group who built benches that will be installed throughout campus. A group did work in our hoop house. There was a group that painted the bollards, and another group that did trash pick-up.
My team did trash pick-up. It was not too exciting. Trash is trash. We collected 40 bags of trash. We learned that the community has been using the school campus as a dumping ground. As we collected trash, we brainstormed ways that we can change the culture of how the neighborhood treats the school grounds. Although we didn’t get every piece of trash, the work that we did still made the campus look better than what it did.
As we were cleaning, families saw us. Many walked across the field just to ask us what we were doing. Many of them thanked us, although no one offered to help. For me, it was rewarding to be thanked. Seldom do I get thanked for my service. Many community members had no clue what AmeriCorps was, so their praise for my service became a platform to explain who we are.
My most memorable conversation was explaining to someone what ‘capacity-building’ means. Mrs. Edwards is a retired teacher from Brownell. She’s the president of the neighborhood block club. She’s pumped about Community Education and spreads our success throughout the neighborhood. She asked so many questions about AmeriCorps. She heard me say “capacity-building” about four times before she stopped me to tell her what I meant. As I began to explain it to her, she gasped and screamed, “So y’all aren’t gonna be here anymore?!?” I shook my head.
In that moment, she began to whine and complain about how nobody is going to do it if we don’t do it. She starting saying how we make the school a better place. I had to stop her. I had to remind her that she started the neighborhood block club last summer and how much impact she’s had since. I had to show her how she builds capacity for her own neighborhood. I had to tell her that it takes people like her to find people like me to make Flint a better place.
As you all may know, Flint is facing a water crisis. To many of you, this is news. Unfortunately, for Flint residents this is not news, it’s our life. Flint residents have been living with (and paying for) contaminated water since April 2014. After nearly two years, our governor has admitted that this issue is bigger than previously acknowledged. On January 5, Gov. Snyder declared that Flint is in a state of emergency. We have received funding for immediate aid services. In disaster situations such as this, the American Red Cross is the lead response agency in the U.S., while fire stations are assigned to be crisis relief centers in Michigan.
For the past 35 days, the American Red Cross has coordinated volunteers and helped make the work of the National Guardsmen a lot easier. Guardsmen are assisting with distribution and lifting. At our fire stations, residents pick up water. How much you get is supposed to be dependent upon how many people are in your household. Residents can also pick up faucet filters. MDEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) and the American Red Cross have coordinated to administer water testing kits to residents when they come to the fire stations. Fire stations are open 9AM-9PM every day.
Aside from the fire stations, local churches and organizations are receiving large donations. Many churches have coordinated water drives for residents. Some allow residents to fill up their vehicle. The Islamic community has stepped up by coordinating drives every Saturday, along with providing free lead testing and pre-counseling to Flint residents. Free lead testing is happening every week, but it is hard to get tested because these events draw large numbers.
This crisis has gained so much attention from national celebrities. Celebrities have donated, with the wave of donations started by Cher. A California-based rapper, The Game, donated $1.5 million. Some celebrities have come to see Flint for themselves. Many people who I never imagined meeting in my life. I saw Russell Simmons film his segment in my neighborhood and it’s something that I won’t forget. I won’t forget how I nearly fainted when I saw Jesse Jackson sitting fifteen feet in front of me. Growing up in Flint, we used to always say, “Man, nobody will EVER come to Flint.” I can admit how wrong I was during my whole childhood.
Living in Flint, MI right now is very different from everything that I’ve endured in my nearly 25 years. First, it is really difficult to avoid the media. Second, the water rate in Flint is four times higher than what it was five years ago, along with being one of the highest in the nation. In residential living quarters, using bottled water for everything is beyond an inconvenience. Our water is really only good for flushing purposes. I have to clean dishes and food with bottled water. I have to brush my teeth with bottled water. I have to wash my hair with bottled water. My eczema has been much harder to manage, and my mother can say the same for her psoriasis. My family no longer has to buy bottled water, so my family is saving around $300/month. But, we have so many donations that we have cases of water in our kitchen, living room, bathroom, and our broken car. My family is determined that we will be prepared for when the donations and aid stop coming and we are forced to combat this issue on our own again.
Citizens like my family and I feel minimal faith in our government right now. We have to think more long-term for ourselves because our government still isn’t doing it. The immediate aid that we are receiving will cease come early April. Our government isn’t providing feasible and sustainable temporary solutions. Our government refuses to acknowledge that shower filters are a necessity, in addition to faucet filters. Our government hasn’t begun action on any realistic and sustainable long-term solutions. We haven’t heard anything about support services being given to students and children of Flint. Our government failed to inform all citizens of the lead contamination. Our non-English speaking population was forgotten.
As a citizen, I can believe that we are all thankful for everyone who has donated. We are thankful for the journalists who made this crisis become a national story. I’m very thankful for Rachel Maddow filming a town forum inside the gymnasium of Holmes STEM Academy. I am thankful for every national leader and celebrity who has taken the time to walk the streets of Flint. I’m thankful for everyone community leader who has coordinated a water distribution drive. Caring about our community is what keeps us strong.
I am Kye Bright, and I am a first-year Civic Engagement AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at the University of Michigan-Flint, through the Office of University Outreach. In my role, I work to find ways to engage the University with the greater Flint community. I have a focus on Flint Community Schools through the Community Education Initiative. So much has happened in the past (almost) four months. I don’t even know where to begin.
Recently, I’ve been working on a report for the past month. It’s about 95% finished and it’s over 60 pages. I love to write, but this is just a different level. I have definitely found my inspiration to accomplish my life goal of writing a book. Once I’m finished with the report, my schedule will go back to normal.
A typical week for me is pretty fun. The way that my VAD is designed, it’s expected of me to spend half of my time at the University and half of my time at the Brownell-Holmes STEM Academies campus. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, I spend my day at the University. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I spend my day at Holmes STEM Academy.
At Holmes, I am working with my cohort. We were originally a team with three VISTAs and five service members. Now, we’re a team with two VISTAs and four service members. The service members have various programs that they run, while the VISTAs work on creating programs and opportunities that can utilize our capacity-building skills for Brownell and Holmes STEM Academies.
Initially, I was doing direct service at the school, as it was allowing me to develop relationships with students and staff. Every Friday afternoon, I partake in direct service. My cohort has a Friday Clubhouse, where each of us runs a program that isn’t sports-related. My program is a step team. I took on this opportunity because I will be able to build volunteers to run the program. I intend for those volunteers to be UM-Flint students.
On a community level, I do engage myself in the greater Flint community and the UM-Flint campus community as much as possible. I attend bi-weekly board meetings for Flint Community Schools. I’ve attended campus events. I’ve even worked with a MNA MAC (Mentoring to Access) AmeriCorps member on recruiting volunteers.
I only have one picture of myself during my service term. We’re watching a video from a step show that I’d coordinated. The student is a third-grade student at Holmes. She participates in my step team. She’s a fast learner and extremely creative. She wants to be a DHS caseworker like her aunt.
On my free time, I write in my journal. This journal is specific to my service term. It helps me stay inspired to be awesome and positive. It seems to be my way to take a break from my day to remind myself that there are more important things than whatever has me distracted or unmotivated. Also, I blog it. So if you want to follow it, let me know!
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!