I Don’t Know What to Say About Flint

Jake May/AP


By Cheri-Leigh Erasmus

Over the last few weeks the water crisis unfolding in Flint, Michigan, has weighed very heavily on my mind. Needless to say the thought of citizens, and especially children, being exposed to lead and possibly other toxins and diseases would make most people deeply concerned. But the main reason for my huge disappointment is found in my foreign background.

As a South African expatriate residing in the USA, I have endured countless Americans ask me questions about the availability of the most basic amenities and services on the African continent as soon as they hear where I come from. Regardless of the fact that my upbringing differs only very slightly from that of the average middle class citizen here, I do not take offense to the assumption that living in the USA affords me opportunities I would have never had as some believe. For many years the only exposure some citizens of first world countries had to Africa centered on images of famine, drought and civil unrest. All of us have seen the pictures of women and children walking miles to fill a bucket of water in a river or out of a communal well, and over the years many nonprofit organizations and development agencies have invested heavily in creating the infrastructure necessary to ensure safe drinking water for millions of people in developing countries.

I am not discounting the water crises in many other countries, but I do find the crisis in Flint abhorrent, because this could and should have been prevented in one of the most developed countries on earth. It is hard to digest that elected officials created a situation that threatened the livelihood of their constituents, sat by and covered up what can be seen as gross negligence and misconduct. All of this happened in our backyard while large sums of money continue to go into this very cause outside the USA. How does a city in this developed country open their taps to water more toxic and dangerous than the water in those images of Africa?

At what stage does charity begin at home? I am not ungrateful for humanitarian aid, but at the same time it is hard to swallow the lead-filled pill which is Flint while so many Americans still see developing countries as needy and lacking in the most basic of services. Flint is the perfect example of how much need there is and how easily a blind eye is turned to disenfranchised citizens right here on US soil. As an outsider now on the inside, watching this unfold has left me speechless, utterly disappointed and even enraged. I just don’t know what to say about Flint, and quite frankly, I’m not sure how I’m going to respond the next time I get asked about the availability of the most basic necessities in my home country.

cle headshot 2 Cheri-Leigh Erasmus is a nonprofit professional in the leadership development sector. An avid traveler and lifelong learner, she cares deeply about access to education and human rights.

Let’s Celebrate, But Never Forget…

This week the Supreme Court ruled on the Hobby Lobby case.  It is “not” ironic that the ruling came the week of the 1964 Civil Rights Act fiftieth anniversary signing. It is a reminder that, WE THE PEOPLE still have a way to go and that the Civil Rights battles of 1964 did not completely address the idea that all “PEOPLE” are created equal.  The SCOTUS ruling will directly and indirectly impact the lives of 51% of American women and our nation’s health care law.  

On a brighter note, this Friday, Americans will celebrate the birth of our nation’s Independence with food, family, friends, apple pie and fireworks. Whilst we celebrate, let us remember the tireless efforts of those who worked and many who even lost their lives so that the Civil Rights Act was signed. In this spirit of remembrance let us remind ourselves to stand by in support of our nation’s women, whose right to choose what they can and cannot do with their bodies is being challenged.

The beauty of our nation is our ability to debate issues, but  our decisions should never affect someone’s right to choose for themselves.  Let us not forget the debates and struggles for a women’s right to vote and segregation were about the right to freely participate in our democracy with the full rights of citizenship.   Today’s debate over Immigration Reform, equal pay for women and denying some the right to vote, are a continuation of the debate over freedom and the opportunity to fully participate in American democracy.    

Over the past three weeks, I watched the World Cup with people of all races and nationalities.   Yesterday, the USA lost its match, but it was beautiful to see so many races here in America donning their jerseys, their USA flags and cheering on our national team.  

That is a sight we would not have seen fifty years ago.  As we recognize the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and shake our heads over the Court’s decision, let’s embrace that regardless of a Court decision, we are one nation under God and have the responsibility left by our nation’s founders to protect the rights, liberties and freedom of all PEOPLE.   

On this Fourth of July, let’s accept and believe our best days still lie ahead.  We are one human race made up of many races and ethnicities in a World Cup we call the Earth.  We are divided into nation’s and tribes so that we get to know one another and that relationship starts here at home draped by our nationality and our flag.   

On this Fourth of July, let us reflect on our shared past, and our shared future.  When we are both victorious and face setback always remember, “The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”  We will have our challenges like those who came before us and lit America’s torch on July 4, 1776.  

Sometimes, through the political and cultural conflict, rancor and discord we wonder how we can have a Hobby Lobby decision.  If we look to our shared past, we can see it is times like when a tornado wipes out a town in the Midwest, or a hurricane damages the Gulf states that we find our way back to one another to pick up the pieces and put things back together again. If we look around, we will find that our numbers are larger, our mettle stronger than it was two centuries or even fifty years ago. 

What makes our nation special is our resilience.  We come together and stand up for what is right, and refuse to sit, when we know something is wrong.   

That’s why we celebrate our nation’s Independence and birth every year on the 4th of July.  That is why the Hobby Lobby decision came down this week.  It is for us to remember that regardless of what the pundits say or the politicians convey, Our nation Under God is indivisible and reserved for everyone to enjoy Life, Liberty and Justice.  We are on the right course.  Our nation though on a bumpy path at times is fulfilling its destiny of becoming a more perfect Union.

May God Bless You and May God Bless the United States of America