I was at a restaurant up north recently when someone asked “the questions.”
Everyone who lives in or around Flint these days knows what the questions are and dreads them, because we’ve answered them a million times.
“Where you from?” the man asked.
I was tempted to lie and say I live in Kentucky. Or Florida. Or Grand Rapids. Or Bad Axe. Or the outer rings of Jupiter. Anywhere but from the Flint area, just so I didn’t have to answer the inevitable follow-up queries.
Dummy that I am, I answered anyway.
“I live in Grand Blanc.”
“South of Flint.”
“Flint? You mean with the water? Are you OK? Did you get poisoned?”
“Yes, I’m OK and no, I didn’t get poisoned.”
“Wow, I can’t believe what happened.”
“Me either. Nobody can.”
The conversation took the usual route from there – how did it happen, whose fault is it, how are people are doing, can you drink the water in the restaurants yet, and so forth. By the end of our chat – also as usual – I had the vague sense I was being pitied.
“Stay strong, man,” he said before departing.
I think I muttered “We will,” but what I wanted to say is what a lot of people in and around Flint want to say these days: “Thanks for the concern, but we’re all right.”
And I mean it. We’re all right. We’ve always been all right. And we’ll always be all right – no matter what challenges the world dumps on us next. No one here has given up. No one here is giving in. That’s Flint. That’s the whole darned Flint area. It’s how we roll.
Yes, the city’s water crisis has been a horrible thing. And if it happened in a weaker community – as it surely will – it might have been fatal.
But we’ve been through tough times – we got through the erosion of GM, the decline of neighborhoods, the rise of crime, two state takeovers. Heck, we even survived Roger & Me. So, a little water crisis – devastating as it is – isn’t about to do us in. In fact, we’re showing the nation a thing or two about how to respond to a crisis that a lot of other cities are bound to go through – be feisty, don’t take “no” for an answer, work together and don’t give up. That wouldn’t be Flint-like.
In the end, I believe that the water crisis will be a springboard to better, brighter days. Because we’ll make it so. Flint’s water is tainted with lead; but there’s no lead in local souls. We’re equal to the challenge. Bring it on, life. Bring it on.
I don’t say any of this in a Pollyanna way – I’m not whistling past the city’s graveyard or trying to put a happy face on things. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t do that. I’m a lifelong realist, even a bit of a cynic.
I say it because it happens to be true.
Example: Last month, I was invited to speak to Flint Neighborhoods United, a coalition of block clubs and neighborhood associations. They wanted me to teach them – given the decline of local media – how to tell their own stories: how to recognize news, write news and disseminate news about the city’s neighborhoods and their concerns, and how to write commentary that moves people – especially local and state lawmakers.
What struck me was their focus. Yes, the water crisis was on their minds, they said. But there are a lot of other neighborhood concerns that need attention – illegal dumping, blight, liquor stores as crime magnets, absentee landlords, overgrown parks and the like.
“We got to get some attention to these other things, too,” one man said.
Does that sound like a city that’s given up or feeling sorry for itself? It doesn’t to me, either.
That’s Flint. It’s how we roll.