FLINT, MI – You may remember Ariana Hawk’s family for her son’s picture that graced the cover of Time magazine in January of 2016 with rashes on his face. He was the poster child for the Flint water crisis.

Since the city gained national attention in 2015 after an estimated 100,000 residents were potentially exposed to lead-tainted water at the hands of state government, Hawk has been on the move to make a difference in her community instead of becoming just a victim of Flint’s water crisis.

Four years later, Hawk is a water crisis activist and voting advocate in the community. She works as a regional manager for Color of Change, an organization that campaigns for racial justice across the country and advocates for more people of color to vote.

“Trying to activate the black and brown communities and letting them know the importance of voting and letting them know that, you know, we need to be active voters, and we need to be active in order for things to change for our situations here in Flint,” Hawk said of her work. “You know we don’t have a lot of people that vote, and a lot of decisions get made based on our voting history.” Hawk started working with Color of Change in 2017 focused on encouraging the Flint community to vote.

Like others in Flint, Mich., Hawk was pummeled by the water crisis. Her son Sincere still has his rashes. Her other children are developing cognitive issues. Her daughter’s father died from pneumonia that Hawk believes was connected to the legionnaire’s outbreak of 2014 and 2015. The list goes on. But she didn’t let it stop her from being an outspoken voice throughout it all. From protests to print and television interviews to going door to door to talk to people, Hawk has remained active during the nearly six years since the city’s crisis began.

She says she got involved as an activist to tell her story, voice her opinions, and speak out about the water crisis.

“I feel like people weren’t hearing, and they wasn’t trying to understand that this was hurting people. Like this was really hurting a whole community. We really still haven’t been relieved of this hurt.”

Before the water crisis, Hawk was not involved with the political process.

“I was a non-voter. I was one of those people that were just living, wasn’t caring what was going on downtown…I was one of those people who didn’t care about any of the issues because I didn’t feel like it impacted me,” said Hawk.

Recently, Hawk has been canvassing in Flint, going door to door to tell people about the 2020 US Census. Flint has a low census count, meaning not enough people are counted in the Census. This affects the amount of federal funding that comes into the city.

“If folks understand that our school closings, our roads, the fact that we were once under emergency management which led to the water crisis,” she says. “Those types of things happen when folks don’t participate in things like the voting history and the census, you know, we lose funding, we lose our schools, our kids lose resources that they need.”

Hawk says that they have also launched a ‘black captain’ program.

“What we are trying to do is have people in their neighborhoods talking to people about the Census versus having some stranger at your door that you don’t know,” Hawk said. “We felt like people responded a lot when I went door to door verses [for example] having a politician knocking door to door or having an unknown face that they’ve never seen before.

Hawk has been instrumental in boots on the ground campaigns in Flint and known to canvas areas that others might not, including high crime areas.

“We’ve just been trying to send a positive message out there for folks and let them know the importance of voting and the importance of the Census, and you know just the importance of us coming together as a community.”

For more information visit colorofchange.org.

Allie Powers is a world traveler, avid gardener, and graduate of the University of Michigan- Flint campus. Alongside English and ecology, she studied journalism. She is involved with a small non-profit...