Women’s Convention to highlight Detroit, Flint issues

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Detroit — In 2014, Detroiter Monica Lewis-Patrick provided emergency water relief to low-income Detroit families facing water shutoffs. When she saw water the color of ice tea from Flint, she started distributing water in Flint, too.

“Through those conversations (with residents), we recognized how bad it was,” said Lewis-Patrick, president and CEO of the nonprofit We the People of Detroit, which captured stories of people impacted by Flint’s water crisis.

This weekend, Lewis-Patrick will share those stories with thousands of attendees at the inaugural Women’s Convention at Cobo Center, which opens Friday.

“It’s a great opportunity to uplift these exceptional women who deputized themselves and became the experts on what was happening in their communities through their lived experiences as well as their professional expertise,” Lewis-Patrick said.

Of the 60-plus sessions through Sunday, many will focus on national topics from gender and pay equity, to immigration and reproductive freedom. But a handful of panels will highlight issues impacting Michigan cities, such as Flint and Detroit, which organizers say are national issues.

“I see Detroit as a national issue. The things that are happening in Detroit are a perfect example of many issues that are happening in other parts of the United States,” said Marc Bayard, director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Black Worker Initiative in Washington, D.C., who will participate in a Friday session titled “I Dream Detroit: Engaging Women of Color in Crafting Detroit’s Economic Development Plans.”

Kimberly Freeman Brown authored the “I Dream Detroit” report released this month, which surveyed more than 500 women of color in Detroit — a city where 91 percent of women residents are women of color (meaning black, Asian or Latina). A key finding was that 71 percent of respondents felt they were being excluded from Detroit’s economic development plans.

“The tragedy of that is the women of color we’ve met through this process, particularly the 20 profiled in the report, are contributing to Detroit’s revitalization in such profound ways,” said Brown, who will moderate a panel profiled in the report.

The goal was not to tell anecdotal stories of women “achieving and striving under difficult odds,” Bayard said. “It was really to link those stories to larger public policy needs and wants of these communities.”

One of the women profiled is Lewis-Patrick, who is organizing a Friday session on the Flint crisis called “Making Waves: The Flint Healing Stories.”

The panelists include several activists from Detroit and Flint who “used everything at their disposal to break the Flint story,” said Lewis-Patrick, referring to the crisis that began in 2014 when Flint’s water source was changed to the Flint River, exposing residents to dangerous levels of lead after the corrosive water flowed through the pipes.

The Rev. JoAnn Watson, a former Detroit City Council member who sponsored the Water Affordability Plan to help low-income citizens avoid water shutoffs, will moderate the panel that includes: Melissa Mays, president and founder of Water You Fighting For?; Claire McClinton of Flint Democracy Defense League; and Gwendolyn Winston, coordinator for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, who galvanized activists in the midst of the crisis.

Whitney Frierson, a youth leader for the Flint Strong Stones coalition, will also share traumatic health effects she experienced: losing her hair and the emotional toll of living through the Flint water crisis as a young person.

The Women’s Convention

■Friday-Sunday at Cobo Center, 1 Washington, Detroit.

■Speakers include U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.); U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield); actress Amber Tamblyn; former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who’s running for governor; Ai-jen Poo, executive director of National Domestic Workers Alliance; CNN commentator Angela Rye; and Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock.

■Tickets available for the entire weekend or per day.

Read more at womensconvention.com