The Price of Black Lives
Published in the Michigan Chronicle
Published in the Michigan Chronicle
Dimitrius M. Hutcherson @dmhutch1 & Tobeka G. Green @Tobeka Green
On the heels of Black History Month with its stories, documentaries and reminders of the rich legacy of Black Americans, we were also reminded of some of the unfortunate tribulations from which such resilience, creativity, intelligence and activism were born. A people, shackled. En-slaved. Un-and miseducated. Abused. Tested and experimented upon. Yet—we rose.
As we proclaim the importance of the right to vote in this election year and continue to celebrate the historic presidency of Barack Obama, perhaps too many of us, while acknowledging progress made, are also losing sight of the vulnerabilities many of our communities still face. Until Flint. When a predominately Black, lower-income and working class community was failed and imperiled by state leaders who took their oath of office with a promise to serve, protect and uphold the inalienable rights of its residents in the state-controlled city. Yet, these state leaders decided that saving money was higher on their priority list than providing a basic need to live: clean, safe drinking water.
It feels like a familiar punch in the gut that the collective "we"—Black Americans—have felt be-fore. In our nation's history we have been undervalued and undermined, disempowered and disenfranchised. Not only Black Americans; but other people of color; the disabled; and the poor have all had their voices diminished and drowned out by interest groups and those with deeper pockets.
In the case of Flint, the cries of the city's most vulnerable—its children—went unheard when officials were informed how strange the water looked and tasted and knew side-effects were manifesting. The results of which even the governor has admitted won't be known for years to come. Research shows even minimal levels of lead exposure can cause behavioral and cognitive developmental challenges in children and in Flint this exposure to lead has not only been high but wide spread.
Considering the economic decision made to switch water sources will have far-reaching and perilous consequences for thousands of families and children, one has to ask: Is a life worth $24? Or was that value assigned to the residents and children of Flint because they weren't at the table deciding "their worth"? That is what the city saved—roughly $24 per person.
As our nation continues to struggle with the issues of equity and social justice, the lives of Black Americans, including our children, are not only undervalued, but are not seen in the same light of humanity. It is clear; reality continues to repeat itself, as we wade into the waters of environmental justice. This can no longer happen on our watch.
While this may not have been a deliberate act to derail the futures of our babies, we have to ask tough questions and get answers now. What is the plan for the more than $30 million dollars in aid that is anticipated from the Federal and State governments to address the issues that remain? Will these monies go to redress infrastructure? Provide education supports children are sure to need? Support families and children as they deal with the long-term health implications of this crisis? We still don't know.
What we do know is that the residents of Flint continue to wait as the despair grows for what it means to live and be without clean water for your family and your children every day.
As America's attention span wanes and the spotlight shifts, we must be vigilant and continue to campaign and collect needed resources. We must call for answers and justice. And we must advocate for holistic and systematic supports. Our children and our babies need us to end this vicious cycle. We are sick and tired of this terrible history repeating itself. And now, a community is literally'sick.
Mr. Hutcherson is a Detroit native and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI). Ms. Green is President and CEO of NBCDI whose mission is to improve and advance the quality of life for Black children and families through education and advocacy. NBCDI has addressed health disparities, including lead poisoning dating back to the 1990s in its publication Child Health Talk. NBCDI's Affiliate in Detroit has been on the front lines petitioning for change and providing water in Flint. Together they are leading a campaign to provide much needed low-fluoride water and wipes for babies. Learn more at www.nbcdi.org.