Written by William Bryant Rozier
Four years later and Flint, Michigan’s water crisis is less of a story and more of a serial, like a cartoon strip. Stories end. Serials remain and get old quick.
The national press, ankle-chained to the 24/7 news cycle, has moved on from Flint’s water crisis; social justice documentarian Michael Moore hasn’t been back to Flint in a minute, not since the beginning.
The passion for change has fizzled out some, according to Pastor Ezra Lee Tillman Jr., of First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church. “You have about 100,000 people here; I have yet to see ten thousand people at a demonstration.” Tillman started at First Trinity around when the crisis began.
The city’s local newspapers haven’t been as dutiful either, according to Tillman.
“Communication is a major issue concerning the water crisis. Mixed messages are out there.”
Citizens are telling Tillman that Flint is getting worse. “Parents are stating that their children’s capacity to learn is being threatened. It was reported that third grade math and reading levels plummeted in one year.”
Tillman said the reason for the drastic plunge is the continued exposure to the tainted water. The Detroit News and other news groups (outside of Flint) have reported that the toxicity level in the water used at schools is still extremely high.
“I’ve heard stories of children who were A and B students, who are now F students,” Tillman said. “Teachers are saying something is wrong because they know the caliber of these students.” Several news outlets have reported on the drop in test scores.
Flint’s water, containing acceptable and legal amounts of lead (about 15%), has been deemed safe to drink by city officials, who preach trust in their filtration process. But “any lead is poisonous,” Tillman said.
To appease concerns further, Flint residents are provided filters to funnel water through. However, the problem does not account for other bacteria lurking in the supply.
“The environmental engineers are saying that once you use the filter on treated water, it strips the protection from it, exposing you to other bacteria,” Tillman said. “Those things are not even mentioned or addressed.”
And it comes back to what’s being reported in Flint. “That’s why it’s confusing for the citizens of what kind of shape we are really in because there is not proper coverage locally,” Tillman said.
First Trinity has been dubbed the epicenter of the water crisis by the national press. The church/water hub has served bottle water to Flint’s residents for three years. Pastor Tillman is the go-to organizer for any grassroots water campaigns.
First Trinity is one of the city’s biggest, most renown black churches; its population grew at the local plant closed. The church with an older congregation has always been community-minded, Tillman said, but “not necessarily in this capacity.”
Tillman travels extensively to gather support and donations. His sermons can’t avoid the topic of the water. “People are under pressure. Jobs are not promising,” Tillman said. “It’s definitely a reoccurring subject in our preaching, to try to make them not be apathetic that this our my plight and that we can’t do anything about it.”
When the crisis hit, First Trinity corralled and donated bottles of water to a mission and the mission’s leader told the press (see: Rachel Maddow) that Tillman’s church was the first to respond.
Since then, First Trinity has accepted donations of water, and donations of money to buy bottled water, on the regular from every coast and region in the country but the West. The Fort Wayne Ink Spot reported in April that a Fort Wayne-group led by nonprofit I Am Garvey, Inc. donated and delivered 100,000 water bottles.
Flint residents are living life out of bottled water: cooking, brushing teeth, drinking coffee, and washing clothes with bottled water because it can’t be funnel through a washing machine.
Showers are run for so many minutes of time to let the water get super hot. Some residents are boiling their water. “And people are frustrated by that because they are too old to go up and down stairs carrying the water.” They can’t afford to stumble and fall.
To donate to the Flint, Michigan water crisis, visit the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church’s website at www.FirstTrinityChurch.org or call 810.234.2653. The church’s physical address, 1226 Beach Street, Flint, Michigan 48502, will also accept donations.