By Isaiah M. Oliver
President and CEO
Community Foundation of Greater Flint
A month ago, we were laughing as we attempted the viral Broom Challenge. It seems so silly now. Especially from my view, my life, my center, my heart and soul in Flint, Michigan. The Flint River. The Flint Water Crisis. It all comes rushing back like the river that rushes through our city. Our lack of trust in government and its talking points.
Here we go again. Another public health crisis. The canary has sung. This is the coal mine.*
Our unique experience in Flint informs us that leadership matters. Quick and urgent action matters to preserve the common good. That is our mission at the Community Foundation of Greater Flint—a mission shared by many foundations across the country now taking action to preserve all that is good in the communities they serve.
Of course, this isn’t our first dance with disaster philanthropy. We learned many lessons with the Flint Kids Fund and the public transparency that required. When we established the Greater Flint Urgent Relief Fund in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic last week, we made a commitment to share our giving and grantmaking data. Our website is updated with this information at loveflint.org.
Flint is one of the most resilient cities in the world. As we all wrestle with a new abnormal, know that the Community Foundation of Greater Flint is living into its mission of connecting generosity to community need through the Greater Flint Urgent Relief Fund. Our promise is to steward your gifts well, understand the gaps left by the CARES Act, and get resources to nonprofits quickly.
Genesee County nonprofit organizations need our support. They are serving our community’s most vulnerable in a time when we are all feeling vulnerable. Shuttering school buildings for learning while keeping them open to ensure families have meals to eat. Promoting the Census through virtual events, while “social distancing.” Keeping the office lights and heat on, meeting payroll, all while staff and volunteers are asked to do more.
Is this our opportunity to pause between conference calls, take a deep breath and ask why? Why are so many families hungry? Why is it so hard for students to access remote learning through universal broadband internet? Why is universal healthcare so controversial and why is it so hard to fund high quality, early childhood education?
The crisis has exposed the fragilities in our community’s safety net. In a city like Flint, families exposed to lead in their water are still trying to recover. Food security, health care services, special education and early childhood education are not new issues. And bless our children, who are now suffering through just one more adverse childhood experience. As if they hadn’t had enough.
We’re not sitting back and lamenting, “Here we go again.” Rather, we are treasuring these precious moments with a contagious spirit of hope for a better future for Genesee County. Working together, we will prioritize our work with people at the margins. And continue working toward our vision of a vibrant and equitable community where everyone can thrive.
Today’s work is not enough. Urgent relief responses like these are usually temporary. We must be intentional and unapologetic about focusing on structural, long-term changes. Changes that will create a society where everyone has what they need to live, work and contribute to the evolving world around us. Can we take this opportunity to rethink our interventions, reframe our strategies, center racial equity and drive for systemic policy change?
I am convinced we must move from urgent relief to sustained reform. Charity isn’t enough. We must work toward justice. We must demand justice.
If not, just like Flint, our country’s crisis cycle will circle back. And all we will be able to say is, “Here we go again.”
*Inspired by Kris Lindsey’s Omnivores blog post.