Drinking out of the water fountain is something Pastor Jeffery Hawkins hasn't been able to do for almost two years.
“I am grateful to be in Cleveland to be able to do that. It’s still upsetting that I have to go somewhere to be able to do that,” he said.
He's visiting Cleveland for a health conference to talk about the on-going water crisis in Flint, Michigan, his hometown.
“This time in our life, which seems to be third world crisis, yet right here in America…people are frustrated, mad, bitter, not trusting government of course,” Hawkins said.
His church is one of the main distribution facilities in the city for water, getting about 21 pallets of water every week from the food bank.
He said, “It’s a lot of work, it is a lot of work, but it’s worth the work because it’s helping people.”
Making national headlines earlier this year, Flint residents learned the state switched its water supply in 2014 from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which ended up being contaminated with high levels of lead--making it dangerous to drink.
“Lead is a monumental issue, and it’s too big a problem for any city to handle,” said Dr. Wornie Reed, a national expert on lead poisoning at Virginia Tech. He was also in Cleveland for the conference.
He said the water crisis and other lead problems in the country boil down to one main problem in public policies.
“This comes under what I call environmental racism, not that I’m saying any individual is necessarily a racist, I’m saying that policies and practices are racists, and those are the kind that matter,” Reed said.
Hawkins agreed, saying that’s exactly what folks in Flint are feeling.
“Flint is predominately African American. When the residents were saying there was something wrong with the water, it was not being heard as it should have been. We shouldn’t have to take this, but we’re resilient.”
Hawkins explained depending on the severity, some folks have to come a few times a week to get water for their family. So he expressed they're extremely grateful for all the donations that have been coming in and he hopes that people will continue to support the city of Flint until the crisis is resolved.