Mari Copeny

Speech at the 2018 Social Good Summit - Sept. 23, 2018

Mari Copeny
September 23, 2018— New York City
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Water – the world's most redundant resource. Our bodies are primarily made up of it. Seventy-one percent of the world we live on is covered by it. But somehow, having access to safe drinking water is something that over 780 million people all over the world deal with. Even those in first world countries are struggling to secure clean, safe water.

When I was little, water never crossed my mind. As my mom would run me a bath or I would help her make Kool-Aid or watch her fix dinner, we just knew that the water coming from our tap was safe, because the government officials told us so. Only, it wasn't.

My name is Mari. I'm a kid from Flint, Michigan. Back in 2014, a choice was made by our state officials to save money that resulted in our entire city essentially being poisoned, poisoned by the one thing we all assumed was safe – the water.

State officials decided to change our water source and not treat the water, a treatment that would only have cost $400 a day. The untreated water ate away at the pipes and head and other harmful bacteria got into our water. We drank the water for two years before science discovered that it was toxic. In some homes, the water was more toxic than hazardous waste.

Even with science confirming that we had a big problem with the water, government officials kept on telling us that the water was safe. It was only once the eyes of the world were on Flint that the city officials admitted that we had a disaster on our hands.

Suddenly, bottled water was more valuable than gold and almost every household in Flint had a mountain of bottled water. At least a dozen people died. There were an increase on respiratory illness and Legionnaires', rashes that resembled chemical burns, and high blood lead levels that were the new normal in Flint.

I learned a lot of things about water and politics these past few years.

At no point during the Flint water crisis was our water in violation of any EPA regulations – and that's wrong.

When there's bad news about water, cities sometimes try to cover them up for long periods of time – and that's wrong.

The reports that disclose problems to citizens are purposely written in a way that citizens don't understand what the problems are – and that's wrong.

When scientists learn about new contaminant that is toxic, it takes decades for it to become regulated, if ever – and that's wrong.

School are choosing not to test because they don't like to know that there's a problem, and there's no laws regulating them to test the water at schools – and that's wrong.

When cities talk about safe water, they are referring to things that's negotiated by politicians, not scientists – and that's wrong.

Flint is not unique, and there are dozens of cities across the country with drinking water way worse than Flint ever was. Many citizens in those cities have no idea about the issue – and that's wrong.

The Flint water crisis made news around the world. I mean, how could a city in America end up with lead and other dangerous chemicals in the water? How could this happen? How did we go so long without knowing this was happening? One hundred thousand residents of Flint were exposed to lead, including thousands of kids.

So what happens when you're a kid and suddenly the water that you knew was safe, the water that you drink, take a bath with, and cook with isn't really safe? At my house, we went from being able to take bubble baths and drink from the tap to having to take two-minute speed showers and opening up bottled water to drink and cook with. My siblings and I had to learn not to turn on the tap when we brushed our teeth and washed our hands and not to drink the water from off the sink.

I may have only been eight years old when the toxic water was finally exposed, but I knew that there was something very wrong. I knew that I want to help in my community. I knew that I want to use my voice to speak up for all the kids that couldn't speak up and fight for themselves.

So that's exactly what I did. Convincing my mom to go out to marches and protests when it was bitter cold outside and snow up to our knees wasn't easy, but I knew that that was something I needed to do.

Nobody seemed to be listening to the adults, but I knew that eventually they'd listen to me. And they did. It took it took a long time to get people to actually listen and take me seriously. After all, a lot of grownups seem to think that kids need to stay in a child's place and that we are not allowed to have an opinion. But I never let any of that negativity stop me from fighting for the kids of Flint and now kids all over the country.

To access clean water is one issue that I'm tackling, but it's not the only one. I want to make sure that kids have access to tools that will allow them to be successful in life, from clean water to books to bikes to backpacks.

I want to make sure that no child ever feels like they're helpless and hopeless. I want to make sure that kids in Flint have the same shot at life as kids in the upper middle class areas from our country, and want to teach kids that using the internet can help them use their voice. I want to help them find grownups who help to amplify the voices. I want to build a generation of kids that know that they don't have to wait for a change in the world, that the world is ours and it's up to us to save it.

I learned that even one little girl can help influence real change. I learned that when there isn't a seat at the table for you, to pull a chair anyways then stand on it and use a megaphone till they give you a spot at the table. I learned that my voice matters and I can use it to help fix some wrongs in the world. I learned that we will be alright, even though the world seems crazy right now.

My name is Mari Copeny. I'm eleven years old and I'm a Flint kid, and don't forget about Flint and vote for me for president in 2044!

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