Water. It’s something we use every day and often take for granted. We use it to cook, wash our clothes, feed our lawns, bathe and, most importantly, drink –something that should be a given right to have readily available regardless of income level, social status or location on earth.
We’ve seen the headlines about Flint, Michigan, again and again. I myself have seen the news reports, social media posts and television shows telling the story for the folks in Flint. For some reason, it didn’t quite sink in. And, for some reason, I didn’t feel the pain. Every day I wake up, shower, wash my face, use the Keurig, flush the toilet…I didn’t feel the pain.
Victoria Mullins felt the pain. She made a simple post on Facebook:
Within three days the entire city of Cincinnati took notice. An army of volunteers and community members came together to support her and the city of Flint, Michigan. Funny how still I didn’t feel the pain.
I asked permission to document this campaign. She, along with others including Phil Ayers of Ayers Transportation, supported Howie Dunnit filming the whole process.
In frigid cold temps on January 23rd, masses of people filled the Kroger parking lot in Hartwell to donate water. Kroger had donated a semi-truck, and other companies joined in to help deliver water to Flint. Victoria Mullins was called into action. This was a non-stop, around-the-clock initiative. It’s remarkable. I imagine pure adrenaline was the only thing keeping her going over the past week.
The bus was leaving at 4:30 am on the brisk Sunday morning. I recruited the help of client and fellow photographer Michael Morris to join me on the trip. At 1:50 am, I woke up to catch the volunteers before they hit the road. Michael and I began the four-and-a-half hour journey to Flint.
We beat the bus and walked into the American Red Cross just off highway 69 in Flint. People from around the region were in full action. Some from Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. As duty requires, we sought permission to film on premises. Out came Todd James, a Public Relations representative for the American Red Cross. Todd was covered from head to toe in his full gear, official badges, volunteer lanyard. Seeing the Red Cross patches on his multi pocketed vest and the exhaustion in his eyes, I still did not begin to feel the pain.
“Todd, we are with the group from Cincinnati,” I said. At first he had a slight look of confusion. Then I realized people from all over the region have been piling in to help with this disaster. “We’d like to document this story. Do we have your permission?”
Todd replied, “Absolutely.”
He began to offer us some insight into the operations. “Water is being delivered to a state run facility almost hourly. This is a real crisis,” he explained. Soon after that, the bus full of Cincy volunteers drove into the lot.
Victoria, along with around fifty adults and children, stood in the entry way to the American Red Cross. Soon volunteers began assigning everyone to a group. Camera in hand and Michael by my side, we quickly jumped into our vehicles to follow volunteers to a large warehouse just outside of downtown.
We drove by miles of boarded-up retail shops, car washes and entire neighborhoods whose once beautifully landscaped lawns and fresh paint now looked more like a war zone from a movie. Soon we turned into a lot with a large, steel building with semis pulling in and out alongside an entire fleet of disaster relief vehicles from the American Red Cross. This is when it finally hit me. I’ve never been to a war zone, but it sure felt like one. As all the engines were idling and volunteers, National Guard and semi-trucks were on the move, I was in shock. I began to feel the pain.
Very quickly the teams were on the road again. This time knocking door to door. The boots were on the ground. Almost one-third of the homes were vacant or boarded up. However, there were people living here. Black, white, Hispanic, both young and old. Could you just imagine? We commonly see garbage trucks and utility workers driving around our neighborhoods. We do not routinely see disaster relief vehicles from the Red Cross. This is America, not some third world country. Following behind the teams in my Ford Explorer, camera in one hand, I took a moment to breathe. I sat and watched what was unfolding. I was holding a bottle of water that I packed before leaving Cincinnati. How many times have I held a bottle of water? How many times have I drunk from a fountain? How many times have I brushed my teeth? The pain intensified. I cried for the people of Flint, Michigan. Unfortunately, as Todd explained to me earlier, this is a real crisis.
The good news. People like Victoria are mobilizing. From everywhere. As the saga unfolds, which will include legal battles, financial challenges and plenty of finger pointing, do something for the residents of Flint. Where the city, state, and federal governments search for solutions, do something. Every time you turn on a faucet, wash your clothes or your car, water the lawn and drink from the tap…think of the community of Flint. Share their pain.