Bankole: Obama’s Flint visit puts focus back on kids

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

What is refreshing about President Barack Obama’s visit Wednesday to Flint is that the invitation did not come from some high level government official, known politicos or those seeking to prostitute the crisis at the expense of the roughly 10,000 children poisoned with lead water in that city.

The invitation that triggered the first presidential visit to a city that has become the global example of unacceptable government inaction, came from an 8-year-old girl, Amariyanna Copeny, known as “Little Miss Flint” or Mari who herself is a victim of the water crisis.

As her March 14 letter to the president indicated, young Mari was only seeking the possibility of meeting the president or the first lady as she was planning to go to Washington to hear Gov. Rick Snyder’s congressional testimony about what he knew about the crisis.

“My mom said chances are you will be too 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,” Mari wrote to the president.

Instead, what she got was not only a response from Obama but a commitment for an overdue visit to Flint from the president.

Mari is an example of why the focus on the Flint crisis should not be only about repairing a governmental system that is broken, but also about helping the children whose chances of living productive lives now hang in the balance because of the lead in their bodies.

Politicians of all stripes have called each other names in the wake of the Flint crisis. Petitions have been initiated to recall the governor whose administration either deliberately walked away or decided this was a one-day crisis as thousands of publicly released emails have now shown.

In all activities to hold state government accountable, very few (if any) have zeroed in on helping the children recover from this man-made disaster.

Crisis creates opportunity, and politicians know how to maximize such opportunities to advance their own agendas. But in the case of Flint, the only opportunity here should be to ensure that those innocent children have a future. They are the victims of a problem created by adults in a system that showed little regard for the sanctity of their lives. Any restoration effort in Flint must start with the children because their lives matter like all children in Michigan.

Obama’s visit this week should not be a time to increase the volume on the microphone for politicians looking to reposition themselves and issue new catchphrases to the press. Instead it should be a moment to give the microphone to children like Mari and hear from them.

From there, we can focus on ways to help Flint’s children whose lives are at the crossroads. A presidential visit will not save them from lead poisoning but it will bring needed attention to their plight. That’s a start for Flint’s recovery. And the governor who presided over this public health disaster should be there to hear from those children.


Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on Super Station 910-AM at noon Fridays. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.