In a recent viral clip, 15-year-old water activist Mari Copeny, or Little Miss Flint as she’s come to be known, broke down into tears during her appearance on The Tamron Hall Show. “I’m sorry, it’s just been really hard trying to get money and stuff for this event because people haven’t been treating me very nice,” the teen says. “And it's just been very hard and it means a lot, really.”
Those of us familiar with Little Miss Flint will recognize the precocious teen from the years she’s spent organizing around the still ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan. At just eight years old, she first gained national attention after then-President Barack Obama replied to the letter she sent him raising awareness of the dire situation in Flint.
Since writing that letter, her online presence has been used to track the systemic failure that continues to ravage her community. On Twitter, she holds up a sign showing just how long residents of Flint have been without clean water. “Flint, Michigan, has been without clean water since April 24th, 2014.” Her most recent reminder would come this past April. Eight years later.
It's almost easy to forget behind all her impossible adorableness, that a Black girl has been robbed of her childhood by the evils of environmental racism. No amount of girlhood sweetness can sugarcoat the deep moral rot of a country that coerces Black girls out of their childhood and into a life of defending their right to simply exist. There’s no tidy bow to wrap around how this country would rather see Black girls beg for life-sustaining resources than just simply give it to them.
There are many hands that have steered us in the direction of this particular catastrophe. There’s the Flint, Michigan officials who decided to skim on costs by changing the city’s water supply to a supplier that would eventually lead to poor water quality. There’s Governor Rick Snyder whose gross negligence has only exasperated the water crisis. Then there’s Obama himself, who during his visit to Flint in 2016 drank a cup of what was purportedly Flint’s tap water as a gesture that the crisis was over. It should be noted that the crisis was not and presently is still not over.
The direct impact on the community has been immeasurable. There were all the illnesses from the lead exposure, some of which have resulted in multiple deaths. There’s also the mental strain it has taken on the residents.
Mostly I think about the toll it has taken on the youth of Flint, namely Copeny. If nothing changes, in two years, she will have lived longer without clean water than she lived with it. Another tragedy to add to this catastrophe’s unending list.
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Feature image by Bryan Steffy/WireImage