Dear Dwight Hall friends,
This is the last blog post of my fellowship, and so there were all kinds of things that I could have elected to talk about – endings and saying goodbye, a reflection on what Dwight Hall students have achieved this year (so much!) – or even the recent news of Yale’s decisions around college names. But the students of Dwight Hall have, time and time again, demonstrated their remarkable ability to articulate their perspectives on issues affecting Yale’s campus and to respond with dignity and encourage – their recent participation in responses to the painful news on Calhoun and the new colleges has been no exception. I am so proud to have worked with them, and can only highlight what they have already so poignantly said and done alongside their fellow students from across campus.
YDS students Deniqua Washington, Johnie Jones III, and Gabriella Cudjoe Wilkes, in front of the Flint river. The t-shirts are designed by Johnie, and can be bought in support of Flint here: http://greaterlifeapparel.com
So I wanted to finish the year by returning to an ongoing fight for justice beyond New Haven, but one that has become emblematic of the wider oppression of systemic racism, and at the most fundamental level: access to clean water. Let’s talk about Flint again.
Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes (’18 M.Div.) and Johnie Jones III (’18 M.Div.) recently travelled to Flint, Michigan with several other Yale Divinity School students to support residents dealing with the ongoing water crisis. Gabby and Johnie have been fundraising to buy water filters for Flint churches to distribute to their congregants and local community. Their work was featured on this blog in January. Time to catch up!
You’ve both been active in raising awareness and funds for Flint for a while. What led you to make the decision to visit?
We were excited to raise funds but in talking to the pastors on the ground found that they expressed a desire to feel supported by the faith community. As seminarians, we thought it would be meaningful to the community to give the ministry of presence, by showing up physically to offer our prayers, concern and solidarity with the faith leaders of the Flint community. We saw it as a continuation of the work we began when we launched our gofundme campaign. If secular organizations, celebrities, and politicians could make their way to Flint, we felt we as a community of faith should do the same. We are so glad that we did.
Can you tell me briefly what work you carried out while there?
Our work was three-fold. Part one was hosting a roundtable with pastors, faith leaders, local elected officials, and community leaders to discuss the intersection of ecology and theology. We intentionally went on Earth Day to tie in the broader ecological implications of the Flint Water Crisis. Part two of our trip consisted of active distribution of resources to the Flint community. The items that we distributed were purchased with the proceeds of the funds we raised during our ‘Bless Flint’ campaign. The third part of our trip consisted of walking and driving around the Flint community, talking to residents and hearing their stories. We had an incredible group of Yale students who traveled with us including: YDS/ISM students Dusty Gavin & Kacei Conyers who filmed the entire trip; YDS students Heaven Berhane & Deniqua Washington who spearheaded our outreach & distribution efforts; and Yale College freshman and Flint native, Jalen Parks, who was our community liaison.
The YDS team with Flint community leaders, lawyers, pastors, and school officials
What was the pastor’s roundtable like? What do you hope its long-term impact will be?
The roundtable was enlightening. Pastors and faith leaders were transparent and spoke about the importance of fostering hope in the midst of crisis. Our intent and hope for long term effects was to have the pastors remember that the work they are doing not only affects their communities but has global implications for how to pastor through crisis. Furthermore, we wanted to hear how their work, during this crisis, has affected their theology. Long term, we hope these pastors will archive what they are doing and share it with current and future pastors and faith leaders so that others can learn how one pastors through an issue that they too are deeply affected by, on a personal level. Additionally, we hope books, articles, and public conversations are penned by these pastors – for others to learn from, for years to come.
What were the major challenges involved for your team?
We had to strike a balance of planning with the community present in Flint and planning on our own. We had to take our hands off of some things because the Flint community needed to make this work in a way that was organic for them. Many things changed on the spot or hours before, but our team learned how to be flexible and how to work closely with the community partners we had. The end result was a beautiful collaboration that we are really honored to have been able to create.
What are the major struggles that the people of Flint are currently facing? Has the water crisis improved at all?
The bottom line is that the people of Flint have been affected for life by decisions made by elected officials that were supposed to have their best interests at heart. Flint residents need justice. They need the federal government to step in and to expedite proper relief including replacing water pipes, ridding residents of undue water bills, aiding in health care bills that residents are accumulating for lead treatment, special education services for children affected by lead, and more. It was recently announced that President Obama will visit Flint on May 4th. Let’s pray that is a step in the right direction.
What’s next for advocating for Flint? How can Yale students get involved?
The city of Flint will continually need monetary resources to provide in between care until the government rectifies this situation. We have the names and numbers of resource centers in Flint that will use the funds wisely to benefit the community. We can share that info with those who desire it. We also need the national media to keep their eyes on Flint. This needs to be changed at a policy level. Elected officials should not be let off the hook. Yale students and alumni from all states can write their elected officials advocating for pressure to be placed on the Federal government to provide relief efforts immediately.
Want to find out how you can contribute or get more involved? Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any thoughts on this year’s blog posts, or what you’d like to see more of from the next Magee Fellow? I’d love to know!
Hannah Malcolm (M.A.R. ’16), Rev. John Magee Fellow at Dwight Hall