Quick-writing with My Students

Directions: Take a word, phrase, or line from the poem and write to it.

“Justice” Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham & Charles Waters

Poisoned water in what we drink...
When are we gonna get justice!

This is the refrain repeated over and over again by many residents of Flint, Michigan.

I grew up just a few short miles outside of Flint. Most of my friends’ parents worked for General Motors, the largest employer in Flint. In its heyday, Flint was a very wealthy community because so much of the auto industry was located in the state’s largest cities, like Flint and Detroit. But after desegregation and the Civil Rights legislation passed in the 1960s, cities, like Flint, experienced a period of white flight: white families moved to the nearby suburbs as black families moved inside the city limits and closer to factory jobs. I lived in one of those white flight suburbs of Flint.

Because of the population migration out of the city, Flint’s population decreased significantly over the decades, from a high of 197,000 in 1960 to less than 90,000 today. The loss of tax revenue resulted in a reduction in spending. Services were cut or reduced, significantly affecting city schools and other city services. 

Then, in the 1980s, Flint took another financial hit. Due to deregulation and problems between the big car unions and management, many of the car companies began to build and outsource cheaper labor in the South and Mexico. Factories closed. Flint descended into an even deeper financial depression. 

Forty years later, Flint remains in crisis. Crime, poverty, abandoned homes, and crumbling infrastructure are just some of the challenges facing this once thriving and innovative city. 

What makes matters worse is the loss of their local governance. In 2013, the state of Michigan appointed an emergency manager, an outsider, to manage the city’s municipalities and resources, including the city water. Flint used to get their water from Detroit, about an hour south of the city; but in order to save money, the emergency manager decided Flint should begin using a closer water source, the Flint River.

For a few years, my family lived across the street from the Flint River. It was thick and dark and brown. No one dared fish from it or swim in it. Industry toxic waste flowed directly into the Flint River for generations. Now, I’m not a scientist, but it isn’t difficult for me to understand why using Flint’s river water as the source for the city’s drinking water eventually became the poison the citizens drank. Many of Flint’s citizens are black and poor. The state knowingly poisoned innocent people just to save a little money, and honestly, I don’t know if the motivation was merely a financial one.

2 thoughts on “Quick-writing with My Students

  1. Your facts are made even more powerful by your proximity to the tragedy that is Flint. This is a strong example of how an informational piece can also have heart.


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