Carpenter Road is a main artery that runs from one end of Flint to the other. New Jerusalem Baptist Church is one of the few buildings on this street. It’s connected to the Community Outreach for Family and Youth Center (COFY), which also serves as a food pantry. There’s a school a few blocks away, too, otherwise the road is mostly bare.
The Carpenter Road Supermarket displays a fresh produce sign, but the building is abandoned and crumbling to the ground. Weeds are growing through the cracks of the cement parking lot that once had freshly painted yellow lines. Today, the ominous sky is about to water them.
The streets that lead off of Carpenter Rd. into residential areas are eerily similar, the houses remain, but most are vacant and boarded up.
On a Saturday morning inside the COFY Center, the EPA hosted its fourth and final education course. They called it citizen’s science. They provided breakfast and a $20 stipend.
Tables of water filters, testing kits and pipes outlined the room. Donald Moses, the COFY Center’s Co-Director, read through a detailed PowerPoint outlining the water cycle. He occasionally shared the podium with other speakers, like EPA employees, an employee of Community Outreach and Resident Education Program (CORE), Shucon Hall, and Dr. Trish Koman from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
Koman biblically described the difference between a hazard and a risk to the handful of, mostly-older, adults in attendance.
“There could be something hazardous, like, the wolf, but it only becomes a risk if it can get to little Shaun the sheep,” said Koman. “What do good shepherds do to prevent the wolf from getting to their sheep?”
One speaker asked, “Who’s had their water tested for lead?” and three people raised their hand.
It’s been 758 days since researchers at Virginia Tech announced that the water in Flint had almost three times more lead (in parts per billion) than needed to be considered hazardous. It’s been thousands of days since residents began complaining about cloudy, brown water coming out of their faucets.
Leatha Deloney showed up to learn ways to keep her family healthy; she has diabetes and lupus, and her granddaughter almost went into septic shock last year.
“It really scared me at the time because I didn’t know what was happening with her,” said Deloney. “All I know is that her eyes went in the back of her head and she started shaking and then a little foam came out of her mouth.”
Her granddaughter seems to be better since moving out of Flint, but Deloney is worried because she still lives here.
Many who live in Flint dismiss these seminars as unhelpful. They’re familiar with water symposiums and organized town hall protests by now. There’s a skepticism and a disconnect between the people in the houses and informational seminars hosted by governmental agencies.
While the EPA’s intentions are to better acquaint the people with the infrastructure of water piping and processes, there were contradictory scenes and responses in neighborhoods.
Peggy Brisbane-Noblit is a long time resident of flint. She lives in Carriage town, the historic district, and her house, which is paid off, was only assessed at $12,000. She is sitting on her porch puffing a cigarette and drinking a glass of wine with her friend, Judy Karpinsky.
“Who is going to buy a house in Flint?” said Karpinsky.
Cases of water are piled on the stairs of Brisbane-Noblit’s home, and inside she has a bag of unused filters. Aside from concerns that they even work, she says they’re standardized, so they don’t fit her fixtures.
“We’re girls, we like the pretty stuff. You’re not thinking- one day I’m going to wake up and my whole city is poisoned,” said Brisbane-Noblit.
On the other side of Carpenter Road, the Water is Life conference was held in the New Standard Academy Charter School’s McCree Theater. The crowd gathered to talk about activism, and all of the speakers emphasized water as a human right- from the Flint water crisis, to the Dakota access pipeline to oil spills.
Gyasi Ross, an author and public speaker took the stage in the theater.
“If you recognize somebody as being fully human, you’re not going to allow lead to be in their water, because I value you,” said Ross.
At the EPA’s education course, Shucon Hall, a CORE employee and Flint resident, said she goes door-to-door to make sure people know how to use their filters, but that doesn’t mean little things, like washing your vegetables, aren’t a process.
“Everything has changed. You have to make sure you’re not consuming any of the water without it being filtered, it’s a lot,” said Hall.
Back on Brisbane-Noblit’s porch, she says her pipes will be replaced in August. They reflect while lighting another cigarette.
“Where it’s very visual and political, of course it’s going to get done there,” said Karpinsky.
But is there a desire to fix the streets behind the COFY center and around Carpenter Road?
For areas with no political gain, “pretty miniscule,” said Karpinsky.