Earlier this month, an online donation drive for people affected by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, was created by Amaka Agodi, a sophomore studying health promotion and disease prevention studies. The GoFundMe was started on March 4 and has relied on small donations from fellow college students. Agodi hopes to bring attention to the crisis to students on campus who may not be aware.
The Flint environmental and health crisis began in April 2014, when the Michigan state government began sourcing water for the town from the polluted Flint River instead of Lake Huron to reduce costs. Studies have found the river water to be corrosive, and service pipes made of lead are leaching the toxic chemical into the water supply.
A study conducted by the Virginia Institute of Technology found that the levels of lead found in household water sources would constitute it as “toxic waste.” The study targets the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as the bearer of the responsibility of the crisis. It also speaks to the permanent and long-lasting effects of such negligence.
“The consequences of lead exposure for Flint residents are expected to be long-term and will necessitate sustained investments in education, public and mental health, juvenile justice and nutrition needs over the next 10 to 20 years,” the study said.
Agodi learned about the water crisis from Twitter and she felt the need to respond. Agodi used her platform as a student to spread word of the incident and to reach out to other activists.
“I’m a very avid Twitter user. I saw people talking about the crisis in Flint,” Agodi said. “I noticed that someone from Justice League NYC had posted something about her company, who were going to help the people there. So I emailed her as a USC student and told her I was thinking of doing this donation drive for USC to help raise money.”
Agodi said that her donation drive was a spur-of-the-moment decision and she wants to make sure that those unaware of the crisis understand the situation.
“I figured out everything about a month and a half ago, so everything I’m doing is kind of spur-of-the-moment,” Agodi said. “A friend recommended that I start a GoFundMe, including as much information as I could because I wanted people to understand the gravity.”
Recently, the tragedy has been viewed through a political lens. In 2014, when the crisis began, 57 percent of Flint residents were African American and 42 percent of all residents lived below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Media outlets such as TIME, The New York Times and CNN have commented on the racialized nature of the crisis and compared it to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Agodi also acknowledged this aspect of the crisis, and spoke on the environmental racism she believes is happening at Flint today because of a lack of empathy.
“If something doesn’t affect people, in their community, then it doesn’t mean anything,” Agodi said. “And if it’s not something that happening to someone that looks like them, then they don’t care.”
Agodi wants students at USC and other elite universities to use their standing to help those in need in Flint.
“I was trying to use my privilege of being a student in a well-established university to try jump-start something.” Agodi said. ”I’m kind of happy with the feedback I’ve got with people trying to get involved, but it’s also disheartening that people just don’t know what’s going on.”
Agodi held an event on Saturday evening in support of the drive, raising $1,012. Including the $500 raised from the GoFundMe, the donation drive for Flint has, in total, raised $1,422. The GoFundMe is still active and can be found online.