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016_ Interview: you were there when i had nothing

21 December, 2020 - 5 min read

016_ Interview: you were there when i had nothing

Hey there! As the clock turns round and the sun comes up and down, thanks for taking the time and attention for _bandwidth: coast to coast.

This episode, like all things, is many different dimensions at once.

In April of 2016, I lived in Chicago, and was working on a short lived podcast on the side.

I’ve had a long interest in water as a resource.

How are we getting it, the increasing stress and instability of it, I can go on and on.

With that podcast, I wanted to highlight water infrastructure, and the looming issues with it going unnoticed.

So when the Flint water crisis happened, I took close notice.

Taking a road trip that April to visit some friends up in Quebec, I planned to drop off whatever water could fit in my mini cooper in flint along the way.

Taking pause while driving to think a bit more about the moment in Flint, when I loaded up water in my car, I took a moment to look at google maps in Flint.

I saw Catholic Charities, and having worked with that organization in other locations before, I thought to take a chance and call for an interview.

By chance, happenstance, serendipity, grace or just the beauty that happens when you cease an opportunity — Mary Stevenson picked up the phone and orchestrated all of what you’re about to hear for me.

This is my interview, conversation and 80 minute peak into the daily work of the Catholic Charities of Genesee county during the peak of the water crisis.

As the page turns to a different numeral after a digit of intense events, I wanted to present a moment that to me, feels like another life ago, but the lesson we were supposed to have learned still looms near.

The Flint crisis was a canary in the coal mine for the lack of leadership and political will all too common these past 300 days.

As you’ll hear Vicki Schultz, the CEO of Catholic Charities, detail how the crisis came to be, how it was being handled, and what they’re facing in Flint.

How this story faded out of the collective news and consciousness, should be familiar to you.

The air is sucked out of the room for how many more people like Deborah, who so giddily made dinner for Mary in the abandoned house she was squatting in, which since, has burned down.

As congress deliberates how much money is being given now, how much is to come, holds political stances and slings words, more and more people are ending up in situations like Deborah.

From being upper middle class, well educated, who’s life unexpectedly spirals and gets out of control. Ending up living on the street and finding immense gratitude in a bowl of spaghetti with crackers in a decrepit abandoned house.

I had a whole rest of the day and night to myself in my car after this interview. I thought I’d have to use that time to decompress from the situation there.

Much to my delight, I walked out absolutely energized.

Walking into the building I saw fliers taped to lockers and walls giving statistics to the situation in flint. Where at the time, 40% of the residents lived below the poverty line.

And every human interaction from there, I could feel the positivity filling every nook and cranny.

Perhaps to spite the very suffering in this town, the next 80 minute snapshot of time is incredibly uplifting and heartwarming.

The first part of this interview I’m talking with Chrissy Cooper, Catholic Charities’ representative for the water crisis, before she heads to a council meeting for the daily tactical brief on the water situation.

She gives a look into how widespread the problem was at the time, and how much uncertainty they were living in.

Vicki then details how she found out about the lead in the water, as she was one of the first people called to the mayor’s office before it was announced to the residents, and the world.

How she always suspected something was awry with the water since they switched to their own water supply and plant, and why that is.

She also said something, that since saying it sitting across the table from me, I haven’t forgotten.

She explained how she always wanted to provide those who needed it the basic necessities. But she never expected that water would be one of them.

We’ll end with Mary and Vicki sharing stories of the people at their center, who become their friends after being there when they had nothing.

I feel honored to present these warm hearted individuals and their stories to you, thank you for listening.

-J.R.

This was an excerpt from the intro essay to _bandwidth: coast to coast

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