Flint, MI–More than 200 volunteers across the city’s nine wards showed up to wage war against the blight in their neighborhoods May 15.

The effort resulted in over nine dumpsters of garbage, brush, and other hazardous materials being picked up and hauled away.

For many Flintstones, like ward one’s Bonnie Grass, president of the Friends of Hasselbring Park organization, the event was an opportunity for community members to come together after a year of quarantine. According to her, the warm weather brought out nearly 50 volunteers to the Brownell-Holmes neighborhood.

Bonnie Grass poses for a photo while she helps organize the first ward portion of the citywide clean-up on May 15, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“We’re taking Flint back,” Grass said. “It takes a community and the community has been so involved. I have met a lot of people today that said they’re coming back to work with us in the future.”

Other ward one residents like Michael Vaughn took a more philosophical tone when talking about the day’s event. For him, something like a city-wide cleanup is as much about clearing blight in the moment as it is about creating a culture that’s focused on preventing blight in the first place. 

First ward resident John Jefferson, 79, rakes leaves and twigs at Hasselbring Park during the citywide clean-up on May 15, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“The interest of one is the interest of all,” Vaughn said as he pointed at a blighted out house across the street from his home. ‘If you walk past a house like this and you throw a rock through the window or dump your garbage in its yard, you’re not hurting that house, you’re hurting the community.”

For other residents like the second ward’s Eartha Logan, part of Flint Residents Organized for Good, or FROG,  cleanups like these are about legacy and leaving behind a neighborhood worth being proud of for future generations. 

A volunteer does lawn work at Hasselbring Park during the citywide clean-up on May 15, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

According to Logan, making a “clean and viable neighborhood” was the goal of the day. She said she wants to make sure her neighborhood is inviting and that the parks they’ve worked so hard to maintain are safe for children.

A living testament to the belief in passing down one’s pride of their home is Monissa Freeman, Logan’s daughter. 

Freeman, who grew up in Flint but later moved to Baltimore, returned for the weekend to help her mother with the cleanup. 

Bernard Freeman, 62, and his wife Monisa, 48, clean up litter and leaves on Flint’s north side with Bryce Logan, 6, during a citywide clean-up on May 15, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“I don’t live here anymore but Flint is still my home,” Freeman said. 

Logan and Freeman were not the only mother-daughter cleanup crew of the day. Charis and Sonja Lee from the third ward spent their morning parsing through the garbage thrown out by drivers on the Pierson Road I-475 on-ramp.

With litter pickers in hand, the two women continued to work as they talked about the massive amount of garbage they’d picked up in that area alone. 

Charis Lee, 31, her mother Sonja Lee, 66, and Cynthia Haynes clean up litter on the on ramp to Interstate 475 during the citywide clean-up on May 15, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“It’s a disgrace that people come by here and think they can throw their McDonald’s bag out of the window. That’s all we’ve been picking up, it’s a shame…I taught my children not to litter,” Sonja Lee said. “You don’t mess up God’s earth.”

In the fourth ward, residents Edna Sabucco and Lisa Squier took advantage of the fact the dumpsters would be out and called on friends with backhoes to come and help not only with blight in the streets and parking lots but also to come and help dispose of some of the rubble lying around a recently burned down house on Arlington Street. 

By the end of the day, the city’s fourth ward was three dumpster’s worth of blight cleaner. 

Edna Sabucco, Rick Squier, and Lisa Squier, pose for a photo on Flint’s east side during a citywide clean-up May 15, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“We had close to 40 people,” Squier said. “We did so well that we had to keep pulling our people back because they were going out of area.”

According to Sabucco, the group had to manage a motorcade of trucks hauling away garbage, each one quickly filling up and driving off to dump garbage as the next truck pulled up. 

As the day wore on and the work came to an end, the different dumpsters dotting Flint’s streets, all filled to the brim with garbage, stood as a reminder of the good a community can do for itself.

The second and last city-wide cleanup of the year will be Saturday, September 18. For information you can visit the Neighborhood Engagement Hub website here.

Santiago Ochoa is Flint Beat's Latinx Community reporter. He is always looking to write about anything Flint or Latinx. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications...

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