—W. H Auden
The following are voices of social work students from the University of Michigan - Flint who are attempting to maintain their dignity, social work values and ethics as they care for themselves and others while in the midst of a mass poisoning. They are disproportionately poor, are attending social work programs while working at least one full time job, in addition to their unpaid internships. They are also often single parents with disabilities. Below is a compilation of the voices of Juniors in the social work program and their reactions to discovering and living with the information that they have been poisoned with lead, which causes irreversible brain damage and enters the bone marrow after 28 days.
For those of you who may have been unaware Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder, poisoned the people if Flint (largely a community of color) and withheld information about the poisoning for over a year and a half. I am a junior disabled faculty member who put together this compilation at the request of students in my three Human Behavior in the Social Environment classes. The level of a modification of daily living as well as the anxiety regarding internal damage and the destruction of trust can be heard in the voices below. (This story will be run in multiple articles due to the high number of stories)
Dr. Kathleen "Kelly" Levinstein, PhD, LCSW,LMSW, CADC, CSOTS
Being a father of four school-aged children is tough during the water crisis. It has directly affected my family and I have been dealing with a tremendous amount of stress due to the water crisis. Knowing that my children have consumed lead filled water makes me feel like I have failed them as a father. I feel like I cannot graduate fast enough and the pressure is mounting. Graduating college helps give me hope that my family’s quality of life can possibly improve.
-Charles Banks Jr., BSW Representative for NASW-Michigan
I believe this same issue is at the core of what happened in Flint, MI. In 2014, Mayor Dayne Walling and his environmental quality staff approved millions of dollars to change the Flint water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. One of the components of that shift was the need for corrosion treatment chemicals at a price of $36,500 per year, a mere $100 per day. The use of these chemicals were not approved because the millions of dollars they had been discussing could not be truly comprehended, but $36,500 was a much more significant savings to them. They may have even felt some satisfaction at having saved $36,500. Now, because of their lack of comprehension, they have potentially exposed 100,000 residents, 8000 of which are children, to lead poisoning. As we look at all the blame being thrown around, I feel we must forgive the shortcomings of those who made that initial decision. I do not believe their actions were malicious. They simply did not understand the magnitude of their choice.
What is much more difficult to forgive is the deaf ears, ignorance and inhumanity shown by senior state government officials when the problem began to surface in 2015. They are the real criminals in this crisis. For me, true social justice dictates that they be held lawfully accountable to the fullest extent for their intentionally malicious and inhumane acts. What do say you?
This crisis could have been avoided had the state officials followed the federal regulations of corrosion control that were already in place. Instead, the information of contamination was held from us, and citizens were told the water is fine to eat, drink, and bathe in. Flint is a community that is predominantly people of color and the working poor. The average reading level of an adult is that of a third grader; and by telling those lies, the current state officials have found a way to make it difficult for our next generation to advance much further than that. It is as if they want to keep Flint poor, uneducated, and less advanced. My heat breaks as I think about how this was forced upon us all. My faith and trust in local and state governments have been destroyed. Had this been a white affluent Michigan city like St. Claire Shores or Grosse Pointe, this would have never happened, and I do not know what it is going to take to ever restore my faith in government again.