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Teenage US activist tells youngsters to keep fighting for what they believe in

“Little Miss Flint” Mari Copeny, whose letter to then-President Barack Obama about a contaminated water scandal in her home town of Flint, Michigan sparked federal intervention, spoke to Bermudian youngsters about getting involved in activism (Photograph supplied)

A 14-year-old campaigner who brought a contaminated water crisis in a US city into the national spotlight yesterday told young Bermudians to make their voices heard.

Mari Copeny, who has campaigned for social justice since she was 8, said that young people should fight for what they believed in and ignore critics who said they were too young.

She said: “If you know that you’re changing the world, keep going.

“People are going to criticise you and doubt you no matter what you do, so ignore them.”

Mari added: “Never allow anyone to tell you that you can’t do something, even if it seems impossible to you.

“If a little Black girl from Flint, Michigan, can do so much to help her community then so can you.”

Mari – who became known as “Little Miss Flint” after the scandal of lead in the water of her home town of Flint, Michigan, broke – was speaking during the third day of the Youth Climate Summit.

The virtual conference, organised by the Bermuda Underwater Institute, discussed the importance of activism and what youngsters could do to help environmental causes.

Mari said the most important thing was to not give up.

She also recommended the use of social media in campaigns – but warned against reading criticism in comments sections.

Mari told listeners to give themselves some room for error and to not to be afraid to ask for help or take time off.

She said: “Find your village and stick with them – it makes pulling off large events and dealing with life a whole lot easier.”

Mari sent a letter in 2016 to then-President Barack Obama that detailed how lead pipes had leached into water in Flint.

President Obama declared a federal state of emergency and sent $5 million in aid. He also met Mari and toured the city.

Mari went on to raise funds for several campaigns, including drives for bottled water and school supplies. She also used her celebrity status to condemn bullying and anti-immigration laws.

She has also been featured in outlets such as Time magazine and BuzzFeed.

She also met billionaire technology mogul Elon Musk and took him to her middle school for a show-and-tell session.

Mari said that she stayed motivated by the knowledge that her campaigning benefited families across the US and around the world.

She added that she also remembered how the water in Flint was so toxic that her sister suffered chemical burns.

Mari said: “At my house, the water smelled funny and if you stayed in the bath for too long you would get a rash that resembled chemical burns.

“My little sister ended up with rashes so bad she had to have a special ointment and be wrapped in plastic wrap at night to try to heal her skin.”

She added: “All around the city the water was causing these issues and lots of kids ended up with lead poisoning. The water here was killing people.”

Kyle Gracey, a member of the environmental justice group SustainUS, said that activism could provide a rewarding career.

He explained that movements were made up of people who enjoyed working with others and those who knew how to lead groups of people.

Mr Gracey added that environmental justice also relied on researchers, creative entrepreneurs and mentors for other activists.

He said: “Every one of you have unique skills and unique opportunities that you can use to advance climate action.

Mr Gracey added: “Don’t wait for someone else to stand up for you if you’re facing challenges.”

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Published November 25, 2021 at 7:53 am (Updated November 25, 2021 at 7:38 am)

Teenage US activist tells youngsters to keep fighting for what they believe in

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