Flint, MI–To Kay Smith, the Flint Water Festival highlights the resilience of Flint and how far the city has come since the water crisis that began in 2014.

“I just want to change the narrative of Flint, for people not to think that it’s all about the water or that we’re killing people,” Smith, who founded the event, said. “I think the most important thing is we have to look to the future and for future generations in order to highlight the importance of clean water.”

The sixth annual Flint Water Festival will take place at Berston Field House July 2-4. The festival is an annual charity event that raises money and awareness about safe drinking water for the Flint community and provides a platform for artists to respond to issues related to the water crisis.

It’s also fun. A carnival is scheduled from 12-10 p.m. each day, and attendees can expect water giveaways, special auction items, an art walk, musical performances, and fireworks at the end of the festival.

In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city of Flint to replace 18,000 lead and galvanized service lines. Presently, research suggests about 90% of the project is complete and fewer than 1000 service lines are left to be checked. Although progress has been made to provide safe water for the city of Flint, Smith notes that the Flint Water Festival is mainly about bringing awareness.

Smith remembers how she lost sleep and cried when she found out about the water crisis. At that time, she said she knew that she had to do something.

Smith founded the Flint Water Festival after the death of her brother’s biological father, who died in June 2016 from Legionnaires disease amid the Flint Water Crisis. Since then she and her brother return every year to organize the festival and pass out water.

“Every year we give away water and, you know, we just want to make sure this situation doesn’t happen in other areas,” Smith said. “It’s really about water education.”

At a 2016 Christmas event at Berston Fieldhouse, Smith gave away an additional 400 water filters that were leftover from the 2016 Flint Water Festival. 

She distinctly remembers the way children’s eyes lit up when the water filters were handed out as well as the looks on their faces gazing at the lights decorating Berston. Ever since then, she knew that she wanted to host the water festival on Flint’s north side. 

“I couldn’t imagine how it would feel because I’ve never had that experience as a kid growing up on the north side, seeing Berston lit up with nice lights, and just seeing lights in our own neighborhood,” Smith said. “So, that’s where the inspiration came from for this year. I wanted to put it right in the middle of Saginaw Street and do it real festival style.”

Smith recalled that in 2016 there were no events planned to celebrate Independence Day in Flint, and since then the festival has occurred annually on Independence Day weekend.

“It definitely is the heart of the city so we’re excited to be able to have the fireworks for the kids and the city as a whole,” Smith said. “It’s really mirroring downtown with the north side, with the entire city coming together for a great cause. It’s going to be amazing for the Fourth of July.”

More information about events happening during the Flint Water Festival can be found here.

Khue Tran (she/her) is a journalist hailing from Pflugerville, TX. She is currently a student at Yale University and has written for multiple publications on campus, in addition to having words in the...

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