Girl who got Obama to come to Flint wants pipes fixed

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — Amariyanna Copeny, a pugnacious 9-year-old who convinced a sitting president to visit Vehicle City next week, has a straightforward message for her guest: “He can tell Governor Rick Snyder to fix the pipes, or something!”

“He can do it because he’s the president, and he runs the country,” the young girl with a light-up-the-room smile told The News on Thursday.

The White House confirmed earlier this week the president planned the trip after receiving a letter from Amariyanna last month, adding President Barack Obama would travel to Flint Wednesday to “hear first-hand from Flint residents about the public health crisis, receive an in-person briefing on the federal efforts in place to help respond to the needs of the people of Flint, and deliver remarks to community members.”

Amariyanna had asked to meet the president while she was in Washington to attend congressional hearings last month about the city’s lead-contaminated water crisis that has deprived the city’s 100,000 residents of reliable access to drinking and bathing water. Corrosive water from the Flint River caused lead to leach from the pipes.

“I am one of the children that is (affected) by this water and I’ve been doing my best to march in protest and to speak out for all the kids that live here in Flint,” Amariyanna wrote. “I know this is (probably an) odd request but I would love for a chance to meet you or your wife. My mom said chances are you will be to busy with more important things but there is a lot of people coming on these buses and even just a meeting from you or your wife would really lift peoples spirits.”

Obama responded in a letter to Amariyanna that he would travel to Flint to see the damage from the water crisis himself.

“You’re right that Presidents are often busy, but the truth is, in America, there is no more important title than citizen,” the president wrote. “And I am so proud of you for using your voice to speak out on behalf of the children of Flint.

“That’s why I want you to be the first to know that I’m coming to visit Flint on May 4th,” Obama continued. “I want to make sure people like you and your family are receiving the help you need and deserve. Like you, I’ll use my voice to call for change and help lift up your community.”

LuLu Brezzell, the girl’s mother, said the excitement over Obama started with a phone call earlier this week.

“The White House called a day before the letter came out” saying the president wanted to write her back.

“They gave me the information and said by the way, he wants to come to Flint and meet your daughter,” Brezzell said. “And we were in total shock. You just wouldn’t expect that in a million years.”

Brezzell said she taught her daughter to “stand up for what you believe in, and that she can change the world even as a kid, and I guess she’s really learning that.”

Amariyanna, who goes by Mari, said what she misses the most before all the “water stuff” happened in Flint is to “play on the Slip’N Slide, taking baths, playing in the sprinklers, getting in the pool,” all the things she hopes to do again this summer.

Beyond asking the president for clean water, Amariyanna hopes to dance with Obama. She loves to dance the Dab and the Nae Nae.

“I also want to meet Bo the puppy!” she added Thursday.

Amariyanna, after a whirlwind of interviews, said she is tired of talking about the water because “it’s nasty and you shouldn’t drink it.”

But in the last few days it’s been all about the “letter, letter, letter, president, president, letter, water, president.”

Though she also has a message for other kids to get involved.

“Reach up and stand up,” she said.

The trip will be Obama’s first visit to Flint since the city’s water crisis became a national story. He visited Detroit in January to attend the Detroit auto show and pledged to “have the backs of Flint’s people” during a speech there.

“I know that if I was a parent up there (in Flint), I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk,” Obama said at the time. “ It is a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people and that we, together, provide as a government to make sure that the public health and safety is preserved.”

Snyder, a Republican, said Wednesday it’s unlikely he would join the outgoing Democratic president in Flint.