A teenager who was just 8 years old when she made headlines for her activism around the Flint water crisis will share some of the lessons she’s learned with the U-M community.
Mari Copeny, known as “Little Miss Flint,” will speak from 2-3 p.m. Jan. 18 during the “Youth Activism: Lessons from Flint and Beyond” online presentation as part of the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. The Institute for Social Research is presenting the event.
“No matter what your cause is, never give up and keep on fighting for what you believe in,” Mari said, when asked about her advice to other young activists. “Even if people don’t listen to you now, they will listen to you in the future.”
In 2016, Mari wrote a letter to then-President Barack Obama challenging him to visit Flint to see the devastation of the water crisis first hand, according to Mari’s website, maricopeny.com. The letter received national attention and helped thrust the problem of Flint’s lead-tainted water into the public eye.
Since then, Mari has used her platform to give back. She has raised more than $500,000 for her Flint Kids projects, which have included providing children with backpacks of school supplies, Christmas toys, Easter baskets and movie screenings. She has also given away more than 1 million bottles of water, according to her website.
In addition, Mari’s Flint Kids Read initiative has gotten thousands of books into the hands of local children. She is involved with the Boys and Girls Club and TSP Anti-bullying group. In 2017, Mari was a youth ambassador for the Women’s March on Washington and for the national Climate March.
For her presentation at U-M, Mari said she plans to talk about how she dedicates her time giving back to not only her community in Flint, but also to communities around the country. In addition, she plans to speak about her personal connection to the King family.
Mari said the problem of contaminated water is not unique to Flint.
“There are hundreds of communities dealing with similar issues with their water and it is not spoken about nearly enough,” she said. “America has a water crisis, but people seem to think it is just a Flint problem.”
Event organizer Sheri Notaro, who is the director of diversity, equity and inclusion and the interim director of human resources for the Institute for Social Research, said Mari is an example of how one person can make a difference.
“We thought that her work as a youth activist was inspirational for all people, not just youth,” she said.