MLK program in Detroit focuses on Flint water crisis

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The plight in Flint over its lead-tainted water crisis took center stage Monday during a ceremony on the national holiday honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School hosted interactive tours and an award ceremony culminating with its eighth annual MLK Legacy March, a 11/2-mile trek off from the campus onto East Lafayette Boulevard.

This year’s theme, “Lifting The Veil of Ignorance...Taking It To Higher Ground,” was a call to action, organizers said, to confronting the effects of the contentious presidential election, community violence and racism in America.

The 2017 program featured MLK Legacy Award honorees who are working to improve the lives of residents in Detroit or Flint.

Among them, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, an advocate for long-term recovery efforts in Flint. Peters told a crowd of several hundred community members, students, political leaders, unions and activists, that the crisis in Flint is an “incredible tragedy” that won’t be forgotten.

Congress, he said, recently authorized up to $100 million in emergency aid to help the struggling city deal with the crisis that stemmed from the city’s switch to Flint River water in April 2014 while under control of an emergency manager.

“You had a situation where folks were looking at dollars and cents and not the best interest of the people. You had a situation where the water was effectively poisoned,” Peters said as he was honored Monday, noting Flint residents still are drinking bottled water. “Despite what folks say, whether or not that water is clean, we’ve got to go in and pull up those pipes. Folks don’t trust it. They shouldn’t trust it. They deserve to have new pipes and clean water, like every single American.

“When we think of the legacy of Dr. King, it was about mobilizing, not standing still...,” he added. “Dr. King’s words are alive in every one of our hearts today. We must stand for justice and truth.”

Council President Brenda Jones assisted in presenting award honors to recipients and representatives attending on their behalf including civil rights activist, Benjamin Crump, founder of RESTORE Northeast Detroit, Karen Washington, and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint pediatrician who helped expose the gravity of the water crisis, among others.

The day opened with guided interactive tours throughout the building covering America’s civil rights movement. The tours are expected to continue Monday afternoon.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, also briefly graced the school’s auditorium stage to reflect on the significance of King’s work and his message.

“What a celebration. What a way to remember the greatest man to influence my philosophy, my politics, my action,” he said. “What a lesson he has left for everybody in this country and then around the word. The most famous of our leaders, he not only talked the talk, he not only wrote, he not only spoke, but he led us in this struggle for jobs, justice and peace.”

Program hosts encouraged marchers and residents to do an act of community service on Monday or commit to an action during the year. Some students planned to assist the UAW in distributing coats to the homeless and sending water to Flint, organizers said.

Alycia Meriweather, interim superintendent for DPSCD, said Monday’s march symbolizes continued strides toward achieving goals King had in mind that still are not complete.

“Education is one of the inequities that still exists in this country,” she said. “As we march today, what we’re saying is the march is not complete and we will not stop until there are equal opportunities.”