The Long Drive to Flint

Ade delivering water to FlintBy Adeoti Oguntoye (MSW'01)

Midday on Wednesday, January 27th, I greeted three other men in a small parking lot located near where I live, in East Point, Georgia. Though some of us had never met before, together we would soon be embarking on a 14-hour trip to Flint, Michigan. We were sharing the road to respond to a need—clean water for the people of Flint.

Less than ten days after celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., also known as the Drum Major for Justice, Terence Lester, Traymone Deadwyler, Benjamin McQuery and I delivered 10,000 bottles of water to Flint, Michigan.

Within an hour of our arrival at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church of Flint, our truck was almost empty. (If we hadn’t limited the amount given to each family to two cases, the water would have been distributed in half that time.)

The truck load was barely a proverbial drop in the bucket for what was needed for daily use for Flint’s 100,000 residents. The residents knew that—and so did we.

You see, what our little group was really trying to bring was a statement of hope and solidarity from the people of metro Atlanta. We wanted to take things beyond #WeAreFlint and the usual statements issued by leaders at times of tragedy.

The residents who saw our water truck were not especially surprised. People had been bringing water by the tractor trailer load ever since the news had broken about the city facing a public health emergency due to the high lead content in its water. Several people shared stories with us of professional athletes, entertainers, and other celebrities descending upon them with cases of water.

But what did surprise those whom we met was the fact that the four of us had driven 764 miles to personally bring them water. Some of them even became shy upon learning the distance we had journeyed—joking that, when they got this “whole thing” worked out, they would be supplying water to us because Michigan has some of the cleanest water in the country.

They are right about that, of course. It is one of this tragedy’s supreme ironies that Michigan has some of the nation’s most pristine water. It wasn’t the water that was contaminated—but the pipes made of lead that carried the water to residents’ homes.

In fact, when we looked at the labels on the water we delivered, we noticed that some of it had been bottled at Nestlé’s Michigan plants!

The effects of lead poisoning are well documented, as is the state government’s lack of urgency in response to the crisis, despite repeated warnings from the EPA about the contaminated water. On the trip back home, we four were haunted by the many unanswered questions Flint has raised:

  • Did government officials know there was a problem months ago—as evidenced by the decision to start giving bottled water to their employees?
  • Are the people in Flint’s prisons still receiving lead-tainted water?
  • How is it that Nestlé’s plants in Michigan have received millions of gallons of clean water to sell while the residents have none?
  • Are residents of Flint still being asked to pay water bills for water they can neither drink nor use to bathe?
  • Is Flint unique, or are many other cities throughout the country suffering from lead-infused water?
  • Is my water clean?
  • Is your water clean?

We know that our long drive to Flint was not a sustainable solution, but we also know we’ll go again* because our brothers and sisters in that city need us.

Pipes that could have been replaced years ago will probably be replaced over the summer when the ground thaws. But people still need water in the meantime. Next time we want to take filters and rain barrels in addition to water.

We appreciate any donations and/or partnerships that would enhance our efforts. Please consider sending tax-deductible donations for filters and rain barrels along with other needs at www.oneworldlink.org

* The team made another trip to Flint on Tuesday, February 9, with 20,000 bottles.

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Adeoti Oguntoye received his MSW from the Columbia School of Social Work in 2001, with a focus on social policy and international social welfare and a minor in business. After working in refugee empowerment and after-school program development and supervision (the latter for Americorps), he co-founded, in 2008, an organization called One World Link, with the mission of bringing the world together, one community at a time. He has served as the organization’s executive director since 2010 and has led educational missions to South Africa and Haiti.

The above contents represent the author's personal opinion and should not be construed to constitute a recommendation or endorsement by the Columbia School of Social Work.