Guest Column By Flint Native: 'We Are Better Than The Media's Portrayal'

December 29, 2013, 7:41 AM

This commentary is by a senior management consultant who was born and raised in Flint. The author, who now lives in northern Virginia, is a 2002 graduate of Notre Dame, where he was a varsity basketball player for four years. A longer version of this essay is at his blog

By Charles Thomas Jr.

I would like to offer a counter-narrative to the information provided by the author of "This Is America’s Most Apocalyptic, Violent City," a post at the PolicyMic site based in New York.

While the author offers varied statistics that speak to the devastation within Flint and inserted pictures to capture the visual nature of the calamity that is present in certain areas, those statistics and visuals don't capture the true hearts and minds of the residents. I read the article several times. I wanted to fully digest it, engage in considered thought prior to rendering judgment, and offer an intelligent counter-narrative based on experience.

Speaking of the negatives while only briefly alluding to the positives is one-sided and not a completely fair assessment of the city.

How often will the media and others who have no idea of what is truly going on (other than what is provided by statistical data) offer constructs that only advance half-truths and represent Flint residents as an inferior under-caste who lack the education, will, resilience, desire, and determination to engage in meaningful forward progression? How long will we accept it?

'I Do Not Like It One Bit'

When I read articles or hear one-sided renditions that portray us as second-class citizens who are deserving of such atrocities, a certain level of moral outrage and righteous indignation accompany my feelings. I do not like it one bit.

Flint residents are a hopeful people. In the face of insurmountable odds, we prevail. At the very least, we try.

Charles Thomas, Jr. writes that media reports "only show the bad. I know better. We, as a city, know better. . . . Let us not give credence to the negativity."

Yes, it is undeniable that there are undesirables who cause problems, but I would submit that they would even do better if provided positive opportunities, alternatives and resources. No one, regardless of what they say, wants to be perceived as second-class citizens or inferior beings of lower status and significance. Everyone wants to be appreciated, loved, encouraged and have the opportunity to add value. Some people just do not know how.

I can offer a litany of people from Flint who are successful in their chosen endeavors and do what they can to make a difference in their small corner of the world. These individuals range from teachers, coaches, professors, businesspersons, authors, entrepreneurs, public sector employees, doctors and the list goes on.

Statistics tell one story; our hearts tell another. Many of us have realized dreams and goals that were once unimagined. The level of resilience, perseverance, conviction and expectations to lead a better life were all inspired by our experiences in Flint.

Confidence and Optimism Exist

It is true that the bulbs have dimmed in certain areas of our city, but that does not mean that we are not optimistic and confident that times can and will be better with the right leadership and attitude towards a better tomorrow. We have come to a point in our city in which the violence, hate, destruction and carnage on which the media solely focuses is no longer tolerable. While such atrocities have come to be expected, we still do not accept them as the norm.

The people who want to do better and be better within Flint -- those who were born there and have moved away, and those with an external interest in saving a place that created people of unshakeable resolve, character, love, empathy and hope -- will remain strong and engage accordingly to make a difference, even if from a distance.

Are we divided as a city? Maybe. Will unfavorable situations continue to befall us? Perhaps. Will we rise about the negativity and be a shining light in a world of darkness? I am confident that we will.

The people from Flint will come together and stand for a cause that is bigger than any one individual. As Marcus Garvey once said, “When all else fails to organize the people, circumstances will.”

'People of Flint Will Never Retreat'

We are wired differently. Defeat is not in our blood. The people of Flint will never retreat. We will never surrender. It may be hard and will require significant amounts of effort to make it better, but it will be worth it.

Let us not glorify the media’s portrayal of us. We are better than that. The media has a myopic conception of what it is to be from and live in Flint. They only show the bad. I know better. We, as a city, know better. We are here to thrive, not merely survive. Let us not give credence to the negativity.

Look around, media. Be more thoughtful in your portrayals. Gain a better understanding of the micro-level perspectives and lived experiences before brandishing us as a marginalized and unworthy people. Despite our difficulties and shortcomings, everyone wants to be from a place that produces individuals with a burning desire to make it happen.

Flint has created some of the world’s finest citizens. Let’s focus on and praise that perspective.

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