It’s been more than five years since the water crisis began in Flint Michigan. However, Mari Copeny says her hometown is still fighting for environmental justice.
The 13-year-old activist stated “Flint is far from fixed, even though we are not in the trending news anymore. A lot of people here are still dealing with water that is not safe to consume directly from the tap.”
Known as “Little Miss Flint,” Mari gained national attention after writing a letter to President Obama, this letter had an immense impact, resulting in millions of dollars in relief for the city. Although Michigan’s governor was distributing water to residents, eventually this relief stopped.
Mari decided to use her platform to raise funds for bottled water that she could distribute in her community. In total, she’s donated one million bottles of water to families in Flint. “When the state of Michigan decided to stop providing bottled water to members of my community, I knew that someone had to step up and help.”
Along the way, Mari learned that her community wasn’t the only one to face a water crisis issue.
“The only thing that makes the Flint water crisis unique is the circumstances under which it occurred, Toxic drinking water, unfortunately, is a national issue with millions of people across the country dealing with it. It’s not just the Flint water crisis, it’s the American Water Crisis.”
According to the US Water Alliance, more than 44 million people in the US are served by water systems that recently had health-based Safe Drinking Water Act violations. For example, the water in Newark, New Jersey have lead levels that are more than three times that EPA threshold. In Brady, Texas, where the radium levels are nine times higher than the EPA limit, local residents have reported the water being orange, brown, or green in color.
On a mission to help communities across the nation who are suffering from toxic water, Mari teamed up with Hydroviv last year to create and donate water filters to low-income families across the country. Unlike other standard-issued filters, Hydroviv is optimized to remove contaminants specific to any particular zip code. Mari said that she made the switch from bottled water to filters because filters are more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Less than a year into the partnership Mari has raised $400,000 for water filters. This has provided the equivalent of 48 million bottles of water to communities across the country. “Some of my goals for this year are to hit $500k on my clean water fund and start being able to travel to do some bigger filter drops that have been paused due to COVID-19 restrictions,” she said. Mari also wants to find more companies that want to join her mission and help distribute more filters to those that are in need.
“When I first started, I never would have dreamed I would be where I am today,” Mari said. “After doing bottled water and switching over to my filters, it was important to me that we were able to help people nationally since Flint is not the only place dealing with toxic water.”
When Mari isn’t advocating for clean water, she’s just a regular teen who likes to draw, skateboard, run, and watch anime. (As many other teens can relate, she also says she loves sleeping!)
Mari knows adults have a tendency to underestimate her voice due to her age, but that doesn’t stop her. “More often than not, adults doubt me and tell me that I have no idea what I am doing and what I am talking about, but I have an amazing village that is there with me every step of the way, and they always have my back. So when adults tell me I don’t deserve a seat at the table, I am able to stand on that same table or build my own.”
Additionally, Mari is planning her seat at the table for the 2044 presidential election. Her first act as president? “To make sure that there is a full overhaul of water protections, water infrastructure, and how we approach water altogether.”
To support Mari in her mission to provide clean water to communities in crisis, you can donate here. Be sure to also follow Mari via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and check out her website MariCopeny.com for ways that you can help.