Relief from big names and big business is rolling into Flint amid the city’s man-made water disaster.
The Rev. Jamal H. Bryant announced he is hosting the Environmental Justice #WaterForFlint Rally at noon Monday, leading a 50-vehicle caravan of 50,000 cases of water to the city. At least 60 churches from around the nation, including 30 Detroit congregations collected water and will join him in the effort he is calling an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This is environmental terrorism, and to exact this kind of cruel and unusual punishment to American citizens on our shores is completely inexcusable,” Bryant, the dynamic leader of the 12,000-member Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, told EBONY.com. “We’re calling for the accountability of the state, and an independent investigation.”
Earlier this month in his State of the State address, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder apologized for the crisis and vowed to fix it. “Apologies for children who have rashes on their skin and have a level of brain stimulus being retarded in the process that’s going to take years for them to know the full scope is much larger than saying, ‘I’m sorry,’” Bryant said.
To help with foreshadowing legal action against the state of Michigan and its governor, Attorneys Benjamin Crump and Billy Murphy, attorneys for the Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray families, respectively, will join Bryant in the beleaguered city.
The Rickey Smiley Show will broadcast live from Flint Monday, and Radio One’s Roland Martin Show also will feature the Flint crisis in its Feb. 1 broadcast. Bryant will host a live telethon from 8 to 10 p.m. Monday on The Word Network, based just outside Detroit.
Soul legend Aretha Franklin pledged 25 to 50 free hotel rooms and food to Flint residents who have been affected by the water crisis, and exposed to lead poisoning.
“Detroiters usually come to the aid of Detroiters—and Flint is certainly regarded as Detroit,” Franklin told Detroit television station WDIV Tuesday.
Her donation to her neighbors about 68 miles north of Detroit is among the latest in a long line of celebrities who have stepped forward to help the relief effort.
Motown artist Kem donated $10,000 to the Salvation Army and doled out bottles of water in Flint Tuesday. The R&B crooner, who lives in Detroit, also gave his support to the non-profits “text to give” campaign to fund water filters and other aid for Flint. People are asked to donate by texting “WATER” to 91999.
Flint is home to nearly 100,000 residents who cannot drink the city’s unfiltered tap water. The crisis in the city, which is nearly 57 percent black and 42 percent poor, began in 2014 after Snyder appointed an emergency manager who halted its supply of Detroit water to save money, and switched to the Flint River, long known for its caustic pollution and environmental issues. The Flint River water wasn’t properly treated and caused lead from pipes to leach into the city’s water supply. An estimated 9,000 children have tested positive for lead poisoning.
For months, despite residents’ reports of rashes, unexplained illnesses and brown, yellow and red smelly water, state officials continued convincing Flint residents the water was safe until October, when the water was switched back to Detroit’s system. A state of emergency has been declared, and the National Guard has been deployed to assist with delivering water and filters to residents.
On an upbeat note, the crisis seems to be bringing rivals together. Long-time soda rivals Coca-Cola and PepsiCo joined Walmart and Nestle to ensure Flint public school students have water through the end of 2016, the companies announced Tuesday. Giant brewer Anheuser-Busch has pledged 51,000 cans of water to Flint.
Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, who sent 60,000 bottles of water and donated $50,000 to the Flint Child and Family Health Development Fund, challenged his rival 50 Cent to match the donation. The "In Da Club" rapper agreed to put their Instagram beef aside long enough to help.
Sean “P-Diddy” Combs and Mark Wahlberg, investors in AQUAhydrate bottled water company, pledged to donate 1 million bottles to aid the troubled city. Rappers Eminem and Wiz Khalifa are joining the AQUAhydrate effort. At least 5,000 cases of water are scheduled to be delivered to Flint today.
Through craigsconnects, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark also is helping Flint by pledging to match any $20 donation to CrowdRise with 100 cases of water to the United Way of Southeastern Michigan.
“I want to put clean drinking water into the hands of every resident of Flint, Michigan,” Newmark said in a statement. “The situation is real bad and we need to get folks from across the U.S. to support the people of Flint right now.”
CrowdRise apparently has become a popular crowdfunding source for the Flint water crisis. Last week Detroit rapper Big Sean announced that his Sean Anderson Foundation would partner with actor Edward Norton through CrowdRise to launch the “#HealFlintKids” campaign. Funds will be donated to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint Michigan’s Flint Child Health & Development Fund.
Rock band Pearl Jam announced a $300,000 donation to the United Way of Genesee County’s Flint Water Fund through CrowdRise, and encouraged others to chip in.
Actress and singer Cher donated more than 180,000 bottles of water, and Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah donated and delivered 94,000 bottles of water.
Bryant said his campaign to galvanize the nation’s churches originally planned to donate water filters instead of bottled water. But after reviewing statistics from the Flint Water Study, PraiseFest Ministries, its planned source for the filters that donates filters in Africa and other parts of the world through its Project Clean Water, determined it couldn’t help.
“Regrettably and embarrassingly,” Bryant said, “they said the toxin levels are heavier and higher in Flint than in any place they’ve worked in Haiti or Africa, and won’t work in Flint.”