My name is Katrina Khouri and I recently worked as the League’s Kids Count Project Intern. I am a Flint native—born, raised and proud to still live in a great city among folks who are some of the kindest, most resilient and generous I know.
There is no doubt that most children in my hometown of Flint face hardship daily and my city has seen better days. A once prosperous center of the auto industry and the Midwest, with abundant opportunity for autoworkers, small businesses and thriving communities, Flint has seen its heyday.
But that expired in the late 1970s when the auto industry began to decline. Deindustrialization and urban decay soon followed and opportunity for all fell short. Today, the city’s population is half of what it was in the 1960s, the poverty rate is over 40%, crime is rampant, the school system is rife with problems, and local democracy has been taken over by state regulation.
Now, as if the city didn’t have enough nightmares, the drinking water is poisoned with lead. Tests have shown that the number of children with lead exposure has nearly doubled since the water source was changed in 2014.
The League’s recent fact sheet, A poison all around us: The threat of lead in Michigan, describes the scope and effects of lead exposure, not just in Flint, where attention has been rightfully placed due to the lead in the drinking water, but across the state. In Michigan, there are other hotspots of increased blood lead levels and at-risk populations, primarily in low-income communities where many children already face other adversities.
Years of funding cuts to infrastructure and state human services have weakened the support system for the state’s most vulnerable populations and hurt the well-being of all people. Perhaps the recent media attention that has unearthed some of state government’s failures in Flint will defog the Legislature’s lenses, so they will prioritize the well-being of Flint residents and those in other troubled cities in Michigan.
With funding for proper interventions that look at public health and community infrastructure, as well as state policies related to early education and care, family income supports, housing, nutrition, and access to mental health and substance abuse services, the Legislature can help minimize the effects of lead toxicity on children in Flint and other communities around Michigan.
As a Flint resident, I’ve seen the adversity that plagues my city, but I’ve also seen the perseverance and resiliency that manifests within its people. With the great spirit of my fellow Flintstones, combined with the media focus on government failures to protect our citizens as well as swift legislative action to provide immediate wraparound services to Flint’s children, I have hope for a brighter future in Flint; and hope that with transparency and accountability, state government will do what’s right for our citizens and our future—our children.