“Sometimes, I feel like a real-life superhero!” -Mari Copeny
In 2014, the city of Flint Michigan was in the 12th year of a declared financial emergency. The acting emergency city managers decided to switch the city’s water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River as a way to cut costs and save money. The change was made in April of that year. Almost immediately residents made complaints about the water quality and after a few months, the General Motors manufacturing plant declared that the water from the Flint River was corroding their new machine parts. Yet, the complaints went unanswered. The water was found to have high levels of bacteria, cancer-causing chemicals and extraordinarily high levels of lead. In fact, the levels of lead were way higher than the levels that would have categorized the water as hazardous waste according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Many residents became ill, and some died. And still, nothing was being done to rectify the situation. In 2015, it was determined that the water from the Flint River was so corrosive that it damaged and leached the lead out of the old city pipes which caused the hazardous levels of lead contamination. Now the city’s situation was even worse because it was going to cost millions to repair the damaged infrastructure. The water crisis was devastating to the health of the residents, especially the children, and yet their pleas for help were largely ignored.
That is until Amariyanna (Mari) Copeny, aged 8, decided to take things into her own hands. In early 2016, she wrote a letter to the President of the United States, Barrack Obama to let him know how bad things were in her home city. In April 2016, President Obama wrote her back letting her know that her voice was important and that he would visit Flint in May to look at the water issue and make sure that the residents receive the help they need. During that visit, the President declared a state of emergency and immediately allocated $5 million dollars to the city of Flint for relief efforts and infrastructure repair, to ensure the water supply was once again safe.
Mari stated herself that she didn’t really think anything would come of her letter and was shocked to hear back from her President and that he wanted to meet her! Yet, she is the perfect example that proves that one voice can create change. She had the courage to write the letter even though she thought he would be too busy “with more important things”. She took the chance anyway and it was the first step to causing a resolution to the dire situation in her home city.
She is now 14 years old and activism and social justice are her passions. She has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the children of Flint Michigan, she was a youth ambassador for the Women’s March and National Climate March, she is a member of the Flint Youth Justice League, and is involved with many anti-bullying organizations. She has partnered with a company to produce water filters that she distributes to other cities and residents that are dealing with contaminated water. She often speaks about the Flint Water Crisis and the issues of environmental racism. Her future plan is to run for President of the United States in 2044. We have no doubt that she will achieve that goal and continue to cause change on many important issues until then. We thank you for being a real-life superhero!
Follow Mari on social media at @littlemissflint on Twitter and Instagram.