Mari Copeny, alias "Little Miss Flint", is a 12-year-old activist who has become well known for raising awareness about the ongoing water crisis in her hometown, Flint, Michigan.
In an attempt to save money, Michigan officials switched Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River in April 2014. They did not properly treat the water, which caused it to be contaminated with dangerously high levels of bacteria and lead.
“It smelled funny, and it was brown. It wasn’t something you’d want to drink,” Mari said. The bacteria led to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed 12 people and sickened another 79 between June 2014 and October 2015. Bathing in the water caused rashes and hair loss. Over 8,000 children face a risk of long-term developmental problems as a result of possible exposure to lead in the water.
According to Mari, "I wanted to speak up and say, 'Hey, the water is bad ... someone please fix it? And they never did fix it so I said, 'Welp, you have to listen to me because I'm a kid.'" When she was just 8 years old, in 2015, Copeny wrote a letter to President Obama in order to draw attention to the Flint water crisis.
Obama replied to her letter and shared that "letters from kids like you are what make me so optimistic about the future". On May 4, 2016 he visited Flint and declared a federal state of emergency in January 2016 which contributed to a nationwide awareness of the city's critical situation. Although Obama authorized $100 million to fix the crisis, negative effects continue to be felt by Flint’s residents.
Copeny started holding weekly water distribution events for thousands of Flint residents with limited access to clean water. She has also become an outspoken activist, drawing attention to the plight of her community. In April 2017, Mari spoke at the "Stand Up to Trump" rally in front of the White House, telling the crowd that, during his 2016 campaign, Trump promised the people of Flint, including herself personally, that he would fix the water crisis. She declared that President Trump has not fulfilled his campaign promise and also spoke out against Trump's immigration policies
Copeny and the nonprofit Pack Your Back have given out more than 700,000 water bottles to local families. Mari and supporters have also organized projects to benefit underserved kids in Flint, such as free movie screenings, bike giveaways, an anti-bullying campaign and the distribution of 15,000 fully stocked backpacks to schoolchildren.
With nearly 100,000 followers on social media, the motivated young activist’s advocacy work has received attention worldwide as the water crisis drags on, serving as an inspiring reminder that, with effort and perseverance, anyone can make a difference in their community.