The funny thing about Truth, as I have mentioned in the past, is that it’s always changing, always evolving and is many times more about the feeling and not the fact. And that’s fine. We are emotional beings and who we are is always changing and as that changes our perceptions will change as well. As a kid you can be bullied by someone constantly, not beaten up but bullied. Ten years later you can both be friends. Someone you knew your whole life as a friend can one day be seen with new eyes and become a lover. The Truth changes. Perception changes. It’s the facts that make things dicey. That’s where the ice gets thin.
I was chatting with a friend online (because I’d like to think I won’t be caught saying I ‘chatted’ with anyone outside of online), catching up on where we are in our lives and the place I live came up – Flint, Michigan. My friend came from Flint, has family had lived here, and she went to school here. She loves Flint and still has people she cares about that remain here. And because of her love for Flint and the people she still has here she has fear and honestly, I can’t blame her. At all.
Flint is not the city it once was. If you are from this area you know that very well, and if you are not from here then you have a perception of what it’s like. For most people they imagine Flint as a war zone. A burned out hull of a city with people living on the streets, poverty festering like and infection, and gunfire the music to make love by. See, for many, they don’t want to let the facts get in the way of the Truth and a lot of people love to see Flint as a Murder Capital, as a dangerous place where blood runs down the gutters. The facts don’t support that. But Truth and the facts aren’t the same.
There has been, for a few years now, this strange anger towards Flint, this dark glee that man take when describing the many, many problems we have here. All it takes is an annual survey of unhappy cities, or dangerous cities, or poor cities, or some other silly stat filled rhetoric. All it takes is a blanket stat and not on the ground facts. Which is not to say that stats are not facts, because they are, but they leave out so much. A stat shows a couple was married for twenty years. Facts show that he beat her throughout the marriage but she stayed because they had a child together. Facts and stats. Facts and Truth.
Things are not ever what they appear.
They are somewhere in the middle.
Flint is dangerous. I will not make any bones about that. But every city is dangerous. And every town is dangerous. Anywhere humans populate can become dangerous in some way. That’s something we forget, that it’s we humans that create the danger, not the cities. It’s the poverty, the frustration, the racism, the sorrow, the greed that causes the crime and its brethren. It isn’t about politics, it isn’t about race, it’s about the human spirit. It is about conditioning. If you live in darkness and are told you will always live in darkness then why seek the sun? If you are unhappy, and always have been, why would you seek an alternative? But these seem like excuses. Maybe they are. Maybe the facts here are that sometimes humans just do bad things. For any one of a million reasons. The misfiring of something that predisposes one to do things that many others don’t do. Society only lasts as long as we agree to play by the same rules or pretend to play by them. Otherwise there is chaos. And chaos serves no one but the self, and the self can’t survive a heck of a long time in chaos. But chaos is not is going on in Flint, it is despair. It is the despair of a city that is trying to re-invent itself. I will never tell you there are not problems here, that it is not a time of trials here, but neither will I tell you that the notion that the city should be bulldozed is ridiculous. Is madness. We abandon things to easily in this nation of America. Walk away when things get hard. When they get worrisome. You cannot just walk away from people though. You cannot walk away from history. There is an anger towards Flint because it seems to symbolize the change in the national economic machine. Once we were nation of industry and the world turned to us for many of their goods and that has changed. Cars can be made for less in other parts of the world and that has lead to the change of the auto industry that employed so many in America. And with that change it has hurt a lot of cities that were not ready to transition to another industry and so the American dream, as we knew it, changed. Down with big business. Down with corporations. Down, down, down. And it was like a bad break up where you don’t want to see, or hear from the person that is out of your life. Thus it was for cities like Flint, who served as constant reminders of the dangers of trusting your entire future in the hands of a company that must, in the end, always serve the master, a slave to the dollar. Flint was a prime example of what could happen. Arrogance, bad investment, faulty trust, greed, despair, and egos run rampant and the foundations of cities start to crack. I can’t tell you I know WHY things like this happen but I can tell you why I love this city and why not everything you hear is Truth.
Flint is beautiful in the Winter. During the holidays. When snow blankets the brick streets of downtown and the arches are lit with colored bulbs.
The city has so many beautiful old homes, waiting for someone to love them again and to remind them what it meant to be beautiful.
We have these wonderful man-made falls that, when they turn them on, are spectacular. They fill floating ponds, cascade down into pools. They are a mix of craft and design, magic and metro.
There are sprawling, beautiful parks here that make you forget, if just for a little while, that you’re even in the city.
Flint has something called the Weather Ball that is sort of our adopted mascot here. It is a huge lit ball that sits atop the Citizens Bank Building and will change colors according to the temperature – blue is cold, red warm, yellow is…something else. It was a genuine mascot for the bank many years ago but not serves as a beacon to those of us who love Flint that we are either home or nearly there. It is our True North.
Then there are the people. I have met so many creative, passionate people here. And everyone says that because it is true everywhere. Here though, in spite of such hard economic times, in the face of adversity, in the face of a culture that appreciates galleries but doesn’t buy art these people still play music, write, sing, dance, and create art. They still follow their passion, even when there’s no money in it. That’s pretty amazing.
And then there was a woman, a wonderful woman that was so impassioned about community service and helping other people that she created an organization to do just that. And in so doing she touched hundreds of lives and she helped change the life of the person writing this now. A woman who made me see that there is beauty in helping those around you.
These are just the thing I can think of now. Sitting here. They are not stats. They are not Truths, they are not even necessarily facts, but they are real things that matter, that make Flint so beautiful and unique. There is more to this place than the violence, and the crime, and the poverty. We are not defined by that. Take the worst moment of your life, and magnify that a thousand times, and now think about it. Seriously. Now remember that a city is not a human, is not governed by the lifespan of one human, but lives for decades, for centuries, and so it must be seen through new eyes. It must be seen over the long term. It must be seen in the long view.
Things are not perfect in Flint, MI, and my friend is right to worry. If you are not careful you can get hurt here. And being careful is not always going to matter because sometimes violence just happens. Just strikes. But that violence can strike anyone, anywhere. There are more opportunities in a city with as many struggles as Flint has but there are plenty of crimes committed in the rural areas too. What I guess I wanted to tell my friend, to tell you, is that this is not a perfect place but it’s a real place, a place where you can have an impact, a place where you can change things. If just in small ways. Sometimes the risk is worth it if you believe in something. And I believe in Flint. I don’t know hat fate will always have me here, living here, but I love it here now. The city’s people drive me crazy, for sure, but I don’t blame the city for that. I blame the politics of people. I hope for a time where we will all look out for one another here, will work to stop the violence and to end the despair, but that is a long term project and to really work on it you need to be on the ground. It’s unfair to look at stats from afar and condemn or praise a place outright knowing that what you say or write will change the future for that place. In fact, by your saying these things you can make your words a prophecy. And I am not saying someone should lie to save someone’s feelings but that context is needed. For a city its size Flint has a lot of problems, but without understanding why, without looking at why and trying to explain why it’s like saying all the people in Paris are happy because it’s Paris.
The truth is somewhere in the middle.
Flint is not perfect, nor is its people, but we’re working to make things better here, against all odds, and that matters. So I tell my friend, don’t fear for we that live here, because we have made that choice. And by choosing we have taken an active part in our futures. That is all anyone can hope for. I will be as careful as I can, and I will hope the people I love will do the same and I will look out for people and hope they do the same. But this city is no different than any other, and that is my own truth that I have no real facts to prove that people would believe. Save for this – Flint has so much strength, so much love, so much fight left in it, like Detroit and any other city on the ropes in America, and I refuse to give up on it just because it’s what we as a culture tend to do now. Because giving up is not Truth, is not fact, is not a statistic, it is cowardly, and there’ve been enough cowards that called Flint home and now’s a time for people willing to stand up and try to be the heroes this city needs.
I love Flint.
And that won’t change.
That’s a fact.