Flint residents refuse to give up, despite hardship

By Rachel Popa

Staff Reporter

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The Spann family tells the story of their hardship amid the Flint water crisis. From left to right: Pamela Powell (Otis Powell’s daughter), Devontae Powell, Darell Span, and Otis Powell, center. Judy Spann asked for her picture not to be taken. Photo Courtesy: Rachel Popa

Snow fell gently on Flint, Michigan as we arrived in town, ready to meet face-to-face with people who were poisoned by lead-tainted water.

The charming brick streets that weave through downtown Flint were devoid of people. Doors of restaurants were plastered with notices that declared that they were safe and lead free, encouraging patrons to enter.

“Unwanted” posters depicting a guilty Gov. Rick Snyder were also posted outside businesses, calling for his arrest for crimes against democracy and vandalism of civic trust.

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An “unwanted” poster featuring Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Photo Courtesy: Rachel Popa

Seeing the effects of the Flint water crisis firsthand in downtown Flint was just the beginning of the life-changing experiences that my fellow journalism classmates and I had when we traveled to the city to report on those affected by the crisis. For the next two days, we were able to meet with city officials, pastors and the residents of Flint who were poisoned by lead.

Before I traveled to Flint, I expected the people who lived there to be angry with the powers that be; I expected them to be packing their bags and getting ready to move to somewhere where they would not be paying for poisoned water they cannot use.

However, while in Flint and talking to its residents, I found that although the people want to hold their leaders accountable, they also want to work together and solve the problem that caused the water crisis.

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The sign welcoming visitors to Flint as seen from the Flint River. Photo Courtesy: Rachel Popa

For many families, Flint is where they have lived most of their lives; they are not giving up so easily.

Among the many families we met, the Spann family left quite an impression.

Judy Spann said her husband, Otis Spann, began to develop Alzheimer’s disease about eight months ago, suspecting that the decline in her husband’s health initially started when the city of Flint began receiving its water supply from the Flint River rather than using Detroit’s water supply three years ago.

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A poster on a business documenting that the water there is safe to drink. Photo Courtesy: Rachel Popa

“He tries to go out and talk to people,” said Judy Spann of her husband. “We’re pretty much at a standstill; I think the water has had an effect on him.”

Devontae Powell, Otis Spann’s 20-year-old grandson, elaborated further on how the water crisis has affected his grandfather, saying that the city has a responsibility to take care of its senior citizens.

“One of my prayers with my grandfather having Alzheimer’s is, ‘God, allow him to remember that he can’t use that water,’” Powell said. “Just like the water is tainted, the political system is very tainted in Michigan.”

Surrounded by his family in their Flint home, Otis Spann said that people in Flint have to try to do the best they can.

“I’m not going to give up,” he said. “I’m going to do what I have to do.”

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