Flint, MI: Ghost Town to Some, Still Hasn’t Lost Its Spirit

On Saturday, July 21st, the staff of DVNF attended a health and wellness expo in Flint, MI, hosted by Community Outreach for Family and Youth (COFY). The event was for homeless and low-income individuals in the town. DVNF attended to ensure that the many veterans of the town received the thanks and appreciation that they deserved.

When we arrived in the town, we were stricken with a sense of disbelief. This is a town that used to be a bustling, affluent suburb of its neighbor, Detroit. Fueled by ingenuity and a flourishing auto industry, the 1950’s and 1960’s were the prime of Flint’s days. Since that time though, this birthplace of General Motors has been on steady decline.

This socioeconomic downturn was all too apparent. Everywhere we looked, the ghost of what used to be faced us. Buildings in the town were mere skeletons, gutted by time and abandoned by all. This eerie feeling of past prosperity is sure to pervade the senses of all who see it.

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Yet, despite the economic impact Flint has faced, the spirit of this town lives on in the residents who remain. Though the population is half of what it used to be, those who are still there seem to embody the soul of Flint.

DVNF came to this event with goods for the town’s veterans. Knowing that many of them had very little, we gave them care packages filled with deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks, t-shirts, and much more. We set up a table to give the veterans resume and budgeting tips. When I offered one veteran some pointers on how to budget wisely, he looked back at me with a sarcastic smile and said, “I appreciate that, but I don’t really have enough to worry about a budget.”

Sadly, many were in the same boat as that gentleman. Similar responses were given when offered resume advice. “We don’t have many jobs here. I’m not real worried about all that” an older female veteran said to me. Despite the hopelessness of this reality, it was stunning to see how many had adapted. Most were actually—content.

Many people may not be able to comprehend the relative satisfaction many of these veterans seemed to have. Most who were present at the event had been in Flint during its heyday. They clearly weren’t oblivious to the plight that had come over the town, but this was their home.

Perhaps the most extreme example of the relentless spirit that these people show came when talking to a Vietnam veteran and lifelong resident of Flint. As he was telling me about his service in the Army he began to laugh as he said, “Yeah, can you believe it? I got sent to Vietnam twice, but didn’t get shot until I came back to Flint!” Much to my disbelief, the smile remained on his face as he displayed his scars.

I spoke with another veteran who had served in the Marine Corps. In fact, he was a member of the Montford Point Marines—the first African-Americans to serve in the USMC. When he informed me of this, he proudly showed me the Congressional Gold Medal that the Montford Point Marines had recently been awarded. “We were the Tuskegee Airmen of the Marines,” he explained.

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One of the best parts of the event was meeting Tredale Kennedy and Tina Harris. These two made an admirable commitment to Flint-area veterans in need. They decided to open Alternative Veterans Solutions, a “one-stop” for veterans needing housing, physical and mental healthcare, employment, recreation and camaraderie. Thus far, they have managed to organize this endeavor out of their own pockets. I have no doubt that Tredale and Tina will continue to take care of the veterans in the area. Though Alternative Veterans Solutions was founded in 2010, the AVS center is set to open in October 2012. DVNF gave 25 of the extra care packages to help them get started once they open.

In the few hours we were there, my entire perception of Flint changed. There is still life in this town. It may not be what it used to be, but it is still there. It lives on in the people who reside there, and especially in the veterans who call it home.

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