Flint’s water crisis is far from over. Here's how 13-year-old Mari Copeny is taking matters into her own hands

Kamilah Newton
·5 min read

It’s been more than six years since the devastating Flint, Michigan water crisis, in which a tainted water supply — after being switched from Detroit’s city system to the Flint River — caused numerous deaths and even more cases of permanent damage, wreaking havoc on predominantly Black communities. But to this day, though the city says it meets federal guidelines, questions about the water’s safety persist, and those in charge are only just being held accountable — including former Gov. Rick Snyder who, earlier this month, was recently charged for his part in the crisis.

As the affected communities continue to seek both emotional and physical healing, one young girl, Mari Copeny — also known as “Little Miss Flint” — seeks to inspire change across the nation by tackling America’s water crisis head on, despite what authorities are doing.

“The fact that governor Snyder is being charged doesn't change the work that I do,” Mari tells Yahoo Life. “If Snyder is convicted, he pays a penny for every person in Flint, and our lives are worth more than just a single penny… Way more, actually.”

Mari, 13, first made headlines five years ago when she penned a heartfelt letter to former President Barack Obama, urging him to help her in Flint’s fight for clean water and bringing attention to a nationwide problem that she says “people just don't talk about enough.” Although some of her previous campaigns have focused on providing bottled water to the families of Flint, she has now teamed up with Hydroviv to create a more sustainable solution: cost-effective water filters distributed to families across the country.

Looking back on the start of the crisis, Mari recalls, “Kids were getting lead poisoning from it. People were dying from Legionnaires’ cause of how bad the water was… We could not drink. We could not cook [with the water]. We couldn't even brush our teeth with it. We had to use water filters or bottled water, so basically I wanted to do something else.”

After seeing support for Flint water drives diminish, Mari says she “took things into [her] own hands'' and began raising the funds for bottled water on her own GoFundMe account. Soon after, she changed her method entirely, joining forces with the filter company to provide them where needed at cost.

“I stopped doing [bottled water distribution] because it turns out that even though I was doing something good, the plastic that was coming out [of] it was not okay. … I ended up teaming up with this water company… It filters nasty things out the water and it installs right underneath your sink. You get a year's worth of water and then we give you another [annually] replaceable cartridge,” Mari explains.

This year, Mari had set a goal to earn $400,000 in donations for her “Clean Water Fund” ($100,000 for each year that former president Trump was in office) by Inauguration Day. She has since surpassed that goal and has set a new one, hoping to earn half a million dollars toward her cause. Mari, who is already planning to run for president in 2044, adds that she expects a lot of change with this new presidency, and that she’s inspired by the first Black woman to hold the position of vice president, noting, “Kamala Harris is a very big role model.”

Mari hopes that her own efforts at change will serve as inspiration to others who hope to make a difference in the world. “It feels absolutely amazing knowing that I'm doing all this at the age of 13 and helping out my community… See what I have done [and] then see what you can do, too,” she says. “There's so much work that needs to be done, but I'm going to tackle it head on.”

Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove

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