You see images and news clips of third world country’s or find hashtags on Twitter and Instagram of a tragedy overseas and we, as Americans, feel sympathy and want to send our condolences and resources to help, but what about those suffering right in our own county? Flint,Michigan has been making headlines for the past several weeks since their on going water crisis is worsening as the entire city, whose population is 60% black, have been forced to drink, shower, and cook with water contaminated with lead that can cause brain damage, kidney damage, miscarriage in pregnant women, among other serious illnesses, and ultimately death.The drawn out and avoidable tragedy began when Governor Rick Synder decided to switch Flint’s water source from Lake Huron (one of the 5 Great Lakes) to the Flint River in an effort to “save money”. This has now left the city of Flint,MI struggling to stay alive and well as they cope with not having something as essential and simple as clean water.
The real voices from the city of Flint aren’t being heard and without proper understanding of the problem, you can’t provide proper solutions. I got the chance to speak with artist Jon Connor of Flint,Michigan and Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment about what’s really going on on the ground in Flint, how we can effectively get involved, and why the #FlintWaterCrisis isn’t a trendy conversation starter, but a great problem in humanity in our country.
Dev Gillespie: A lot of people don’t realize how it is on a day to day basis not having clean water to drink or bathe with in Flint,MI. What is a day to day like in Flint right now?
Jon Connor: You know, you have to understand that the smallest things become an inconvenience. Think about brushing your teeth with a bottle of water. Try to brush your teeth with bottle water. Something that would usually take 5 minutes becomes a 15 minute or 20 minute situation. Every day now in Flint a big decision to make is, “So, where are you going to take a shower at today?.” Things that, especially living in the United States, no person should have to think that hard about taking a shower. Water is suppose to be a commodity that we all are suppose to have. It’s not even something we should have to think about. Water is such a plentiful commodity, you shouldn’t have to think about it being poisoned or unsafe to use. You have that aspect of the inconvenience. How are you going to take a shower, bathe, and brush your teeth with bottled water? Also, it messes with your spirit and your optimism when you start feeling like nobody cares about you. You feel like your country, your state, your government, doesn’t care about you. The fact that they don’t care if we live or die because we have poisoned water. It’s a lot of things that test you on an every day basis.
Dev Gillespie: A lot of people are under the impression the water crisis in Flint is a new issue. To your knowledge, how long has it actually been since the water has been contaminated?
Jon Connor: I lived in Flint up until about two years ago. So it’s not like I’ve been out of Flint 10 or 15 years or anything like that. My mother still stays in Flint so Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday’s, I’m flying back to Flint, Michigan. Yeah, this has been an issue for 2 years. Then there were stories about, “If you boil the water then it’s okay”, but come to find out it was never okay. They told us the water was contaminated 2 years ago, it was never safe to use. You have people, family, kids using this water and now they’re sick and having rashes and lead poisoning due to a decision that was made. I know that Cher brought it to a lot of people’s attention and a lot of celebrities have brought this to people’s attention just recently because of how bad it’s getting and people are dying because of it, but the water has actually been contaminated for 2 years.
Dev Gillespie: I’ve seen people from Flint posting on social media that the bottled water is appreciated, but they feel the media is not getting the right information out in regards to what is really needed and going on. How can those who want to help and have it be effective get involved besides donating bottles of water?
Jon Connor: Yo. That’s one thing that me and Dre talked about. I think the bottled water thing is becoming a trendy, for the moment thing to do to say you donated bottled water to Flint, which is cool because we do need water. I talked to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, I sat down and had a meeting with them and they were saying they have more water that they know what to do with. One suggestion that they made that I thought was interesting is that milk and other produce actually helps to fight lead poisoning in the body, at least for kids. It helps lead not be absorbed in the system and I know that’s a small thing is the grand scheme of things, but it’s a marathon not a sprint. This is a long term issue so any little bit helps. Other than just donating water, donating food, and donating your time is another big thing because now you gotta think. The National Guard and the government are probably only going to be here for 90 days, after that we are probably going to be left to fend for ourselves. So, it’s man hours, your time, water, milk, produce, just things that you would need in a time of crisis. Everything helps.
Dev Gillespie: How do you feel like city officials have been in their response and do you think an arrest needs to be made in regards to Governor Synder’s negligence?
Jon Connor: On a daily basis you probably don’t even think about the water, right? Because it’s just something we expect to always be okay. I look at it like the people feel betrayed by the government because we don’t think about these things. We elect people and put people in power that are responsible enough to handle these situations. We leave those things in these people’t hands and then something like this happens and your trust is ultimately betrayed because you don’t know who to trust. This was a conscious decision made by people to save money. I don’t want to get into the blame game and pointing fingers because more so I want it to be about the people and all of that, but at the end of the day people are dying and somebody has to be held accountable and I’m sure that those that need to be held accountable will be. Honestly this is something like a movie where you’re riding down the street and seeing soldiers give water to people like we’re a third world country. This is still the United States, one of the most powerful nations in the world and you think to yourself how is this happening in a city in America. It really does not make sense to me at all.
Dev Gillespie: I know you said you have some things planned for the city. Do you plan on using your music to try to turn the situation around?
Jon Connor: Yes, because that’s what I think being an artist is all about, having a voice. With me it’s never been about money. With the position I’m in you’re suppose to use your notoriety to have a voice about issues. You’re suppose to speak for things and people and be a voice for the voices. I have to be the voice for people of Flint, MI. Lets say Jon Connor didn’t exist, then who would be doing this interview right now telling people how the actual people of Flint feel. I take that responsibility very seriously and that’s exactly what I plan to do. Even before the water situation I’ve been speaking about what’s going on in Flint. I feel like there’s been a deterioration of my city for a long time. I’ve been trying to bring the attention and awareness to what’s going on in Flint way before this. This is like the icing on the cake. I am going to do everything I can and use all of my resources and friends of mine in the industry that want to help out.
Dev Gillespie: People in surrounding areas have been reaching out to donate and help out, but who do you think the people should be reaching out to where you know there donations will actually make it to the city and in the hands of people who need it?
Jon Connor: The people that we’re going through and we know they’re A1 about everything is the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.
You can follow updates on how to contribute to Flint, Michigan’s water crisis through Jon Connor’s team on Twitter: @JonConnorMusic