In April, 2014, shocking details emerged about the political corruption that led to Flint’s water crisis. A small city, but always a big news’ headline, Flint, Michigan is considered one of the most violent cities in the U.S. But in this spirited, photographic essay, Laurie Thompson reveals the Flint that embraces its past and present, but refuses to be bound by either.  ~Akilah

Photographer and yoga instructor, Laurie Thompson was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. She resides in Oaxaca, Mexico, and makes frequent trips to her hometown. These photographs and reflections are from some of her recent visits to Flint.

 Sparking Flint

Angela Stamps returned to Flint in 2010, 17 years after working as a certified cosmetologist in Los Angeles, California. Soon after she founded Kentakee Athletic & Social Clubs, whose mission is to provide underserved teenagers with athletic and educational activities in the region. She runs bicycle use, repair courses and organizes group rides for both teenagers and adults out of the 95-year-old, stalwart Berston Field House in the heart of Flint.   Famous for manufacturing automobiles, the city has hardly been a pioneer in biking or public transportation. Thanks to Angela and others, this is changing. Now there is a public bike-share program. People who participate in Angela’s classes and rides can simply borrow the bikes provided by her club. Students who commit to Angela’s full program of bicycle education, safety and maintenance are awarded a bicycle upon completion.

For more details about Angela Spark’s vision visit her website: https://www.kentakee.org/about

 

Over the entrance of Berston Field House hangs an enormous banner, a tribute to two-time gold-medal winner, boxer Clarissa Shields, a Flint native, who trained here. Vibrant and well used, Berston Field House welcomes the young and old for training, recreation or simply socializing. Bryant (BB) Nolden, executive director, greets everyone with a welcoming, giant smile.  Dedicated to the mission of the field house, Nolden continued for years as a volunteer there and kept the doors open to the community during the most difficult economic period of Flint.

Finally receiving some funds, check out how the Berston Field House is putting them to use: www.berston.org

 

 After viewing a local news show that exposed the level of malnutrition among some of Flint’s residents, Charma Dompreh, a retired Flint public school teacher and certified raw food chef, decided to respond. Perfecting the recipe for her green chips, dried collard and kale greens, Charma offers a healthy snack option not just for Flint but for the wider Michigan public who can now find her chips at various grocery stories. While she began her Living Kitchen before the water crisis of Flint in 2014, she is eager to point out the important nutritional value of kale and collards in removing metals, such as lead, from the body. In the coming months Charma will begin offering culinary arts classes at the Broome Empowerment Center, a previously abandoned community center now refunded and reopening with an inspiring array of programs for both youth and adults in the community.

Charma has been given a small plot of land by the non-profit organization Edible Flint so she can begin to cultivate her own greens. Like its big sister city, Detroit, Flint is seeing a tremendous growth in urban farming.  There are well over a thousand urban and semi-rural small scale diversified vegetable farm fields, hoop houses and market gardens in the Flint area.

 If you get a window bed at Hurley Hospital you can look out on the Edible Flint demonstration garden. The cold and long Spring has delayed planting this year.

Edible Flint works with individuals and organizations to assist residents in growing and accessing healthy food. Among its many programs, Edible Flint provides produce to Hurley Regional Hospital’s Food Pharmacy Program, which aids patients in situations of food insecurity. In addition to directly supplying patients with healthy food for them and their families, it also attempts to educate patients about more sustainable food resources and options now more readily available in the community.

One such resource, Flint Fresh, began last spring. Flint Fresh provides a new avenue for residents to access healthy fruits and vegetables while supporting local growers and Michigan farmers. Flint residents or people working in Flint can sign up to receive fresh produce delivered to their homes using credit cards or food assistance dollars. The Flint Fresh Mobile Market offers better nutrition at accessible prices. Partnering with Flint Fresh is the well-stocked Local Grocer, opened in 2015, and located in the heart of downtown Flint. It offers high quality food at reasonable prices. Longtime farmer and food activist Erin Caudell co-owns Local Grocer with her partner, Franklin Pleasant. The couple also owns a 9-acre farm, Flint Ingredient Company.  Hugely knowledgeable and opinionated about the “food apartheid” in Flint, Erin Caudell has responded with direct, effective and sustainable actions.

Situated near the banks of the Flint River, The Local Grocer offers high quality, local food at low cost.

Erin Caudell, pregnant with her first children (twins), co-owns Local Grocer and the 9-acre farm, Flint Ingredient Company.

 

The Dort Mall on the east side had a cinema and a seafood restaurant with an all you can eat shrimp buffet that my family would go to on special occasions when I was a kid. For years now the mall has been virtually abandoned. There is a random flea market and sometimes a traveling carnival in the parking lot.  It took me a few minutes to find a door that opened and when I did I entered a dark, creepy mall littered with relics from its heyday in the 70s. Still operating inside is a hockey supply store, a diner with a few clients and an apparel printing shop, ParFaitInk–home to Keye Apparel, a brand with a cause.

Keye Apparel was founded by Parker Nevicato, a student at Oakland University. Young, driven and compassionate, Parker is already seeing success with his concept clothing—dedicated to spreading awareness of the very un-vogue and increasingly high incidence of human trafficking – of which many cases have been found in Flint in recent years. Keye Apparel is printed in Flint, right in the Dort Mall, and 10% of all proceeds goes directly to a partner organization working directly with victims. Going further, Parker reaches out to the community schools through his Teen Ambassador Program, spreading the brand and its mission.

Parker Nevicato and his mother share a space in the nearly abandoned Dort Mall. Check out Parker’s brand and goods at https://keyeapparel.com

 

Oaklin Mixon is 34 years old and the father of five children. He is also the founder of the fast growing GoodBoy Clothing company, which began in 2014 and launched its commercial space on Saginaw Street in downtown Flint just last fall.  Charismatic, energetic and positive, Oaklin is passionate about his business, his family and Flint, the three interweaving in a strong and beautiful braid. Everything about the store, about his brand and his style is simple and real and a shining example for Flint’s young visionaries.

Oaklin Mixon, founder, GoodBoy Clothing

GoodBoy retail shop opened on S Saginaw Street in November 2017

 

The Crim Foundation contracted Mixon to design the apparel for the upcoming annual Crim races, which attract almost 50,000 national and international runners each August.

 

For 18 years Good Beans Café has been serving up the best coffee in town; old school Italian style espresso is on tap. But offering much more than delicious joe, Good Beans provides the neighborhood with an array of culture as well. The café walls are dedicated to local artists with changing monthly expositions. The space opens to a monthly poetry slam and an occasional drag show contributes to this welcoming, spirited and dynamic space for the community.  And the very human prices of its coffee should embarrass its chain competitors.

 

More local art can be found at Buckham Gallery, in the heart of downtown Flint.  Opening its doors in 1984, this non-profit gallery has since been a home to local and visiting artists. Dedicated to free expression and making accessible contemporary art in all media for the benefit of the public, the place offers visual art exhibits, performance, concerts, poetry readings and more.

The Second Friday Artwalk, held year-round, is an event sponsored by the Greater Flint Arts Council. Over 20 local businesses in the downtown area participate. Artists, students, musicians, performers and visitors fill the spaces, the walls and the streets in an open street festival. The purpose is to engage the community and encourage emerging artists.

M-W Gallery Flint has a mission to provide a welcoming environment for engagement with fine art created by artists of the African diaspora and those who reflect on it.

Grounds of Flint Development Center

 

Last year the Flint Development Center opened, a multi-purpose facility serving residents of all ages with programs including recreation and exercise, education and training, leadership skills and entrepreneurship and more.

The world has heard a lot of news about Flint Michigan over the years.  There are many, many more stories to be told. Among those told and those yet to be told, let us keep in mind an unchangeable fact: Flint is a hard and strong substance, its very essence is that which easily produces sparks.

~Laurie Thompson, June 2018