Climate activists you should know: Mari Copeny

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Name: Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny

Age: 14

City: Flint, Michigan

Area of Focus: Flint water crisis and environmental racism

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In 2014, city officials in Flint, Michigan, tapped into the Flint River as a temporary water source to save money.

But the river’s water was more corrosive than old water sources. When it reached Flint’s aging infrastructure, lead from the plumbing leeched into the water. Soon, residents complained the water flowing from their taps smelled and tasted off. Reports flooded in about skin rashes and hair loss.

But because Flint’s residents are mostly Black and low-income, they were largely ignored or dismissed by government officials.

Then, President Barack Obama received a letter.

In March 2016, then 8-year-old Mari Copeny wrote to Obama, then the president: “I am one of the children that is affected by this water, and I’ve been doing my best to march in protest and to speak out for all the kids that live here in Flint.”

Her letter increased nationwide awareness of Flint’s water crisis. In May 2016, Obama traveled to Flint to hear from residents directly. After his visit, a newly declared federal state of emergency directed $100 million in aid to Flint.

But this letter wasn’t Copeny’s first brush with activism.

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I lowkey been doing activism since I was 4. I would always go with my grandma down to the food banks and pass out food and other necessities for homeless people and people who couldn’t afford all that stuff.

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Although Copeny is known as “Little Miss Flint” after a beauty contest she won, she’s directed attention to the American water crisis as a whole.

In 2019, Copeny started #WednesdaysForWater to direct attention to other cities experiencing their own water crises.

“It’s not just Flint,” Copeny told YR Media in 2021. “There’s also Newark, New Jersey. They have way more lead in their water than Flint.”

We have an American water crisis, and it should be on the front pages of every newspaper across the country.

Copeny has been extremely active with other campaigns to help kids in Flint.

In 2021, AfroTech reported that Copeny has raised over $500,000 in aid since 2016. That year, she also distributed over 1,000 backpacks to kids in Flint whose parents may not otherwise be able afford them.

She also has an Amazon wishlist for to distribute books through Flint Kids Read.

Her work is internationally known, too. Last year, Copeny was asked to sit on the U.N.’s Commission on The Status of Women.

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