“Is this economic racism?” asks Pastor Will Morgan, a lifelong Flint resident, General Motors retiree and reverend of the Apostolic Church, which has become a water distribution point for residents on Flint’s impoverished east side.
“This poor community has just been raped over and over and over. Water is a human right. This is unfathomable in America. This is crazy.”
Morgan offers a history lesson of Flint’s woes since GM packed up and left town, taking tens of thousands of jobs with it. The economic depression; the soaring murder rates; the state’s imposition of an emergency manager on Flint; the closing of two of the city’s four public high schools (as in Detroit, plaster falls from the rafters, and rats stalk the halls); water rates that were raised five different times; the putrid water that was too corrosive for General Motors, and too risky for Governor Rick Snyder’s own staff, but deemed good enough for Flint residents to drink.
“Because this is Flint, an economically depressed, and mostly black community, this was allowed to go on,” Morgan says.
The five cities under state receivership, he adds, are all Democratic strongholds, whereas Michigan is controlled at all levels of government by Republicans.
Morgan is working with other African American churches in Flint to distribute bottled water. Donations are mounting. A semi-truck came last week from Kansas City; water donations came from a motorcycle group in Detroit; Boston called, too. But he recently saw an elderly woman in an electric wheelchair trying to navigate a snow-covered street with a case of water in her lap. The sight convinced him that the fire stations and the National Guard were not doing enough to distribute water.
“We want to target those who cannot get out,” Morgan says. “We also can’t forget about the undocumented immigrants that are here. They’re not going to knock on anyone’s door, so you’ve got to go find them.”
In the void left by local and state government, churches are stepping up. One of Morgan’s mantras is “If they’re hungry, feed ‘em. If they’re naked, clothe ‘em.”
Morgan’s 4-year-old granddaughter, Malia Rae Brackett, broke out in rashes from bathing in the water. He compared her skin lesions to the Flint child on the cover of TIME Magazine. “She has eczema and her skin broke out after she was playing outdoors. At first we thought it was because of the sun.” Finally, the water’s taste and smell convinced the family to stop using it.
Morgan, himself, limits his showers to three minutes so that the high chlorine count in the water doesn’t burn his skin.
He considers the $US 28 million that Snyder and the legislature have allocated to Flint, and the influx of bottled water, to be nothing more than a Band-Aid.
“The governor says we have a $US 500 million surplus, and he only releases $US 28 million? Shame on you. Shame on you for usurping the rights of people,” Morgan says.
As told to Jacob Wheeler.
Photo by J. Carl Ganter.
Student journalists at the White Pine Press, the student-run newspaper at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, contributed to Circle of Blue’s reporting in Flint.