Flint, MI—Flint Beat’s top story in 2021 has nothing to do with what you might think.

In a year dominated by coronavirus, the water crisis settlement, and an uptick in crime, our top story is instead about a horror movie that was filmed here this fall. Maybe that’s because we’re all “languishing” according to The New York Times’ most-read story this year, or maybe it’s because we all like a little good news now and again.

Regardless, as our staff reviewed Flint Beat’s top performing stories of 2021 one thing was clear across all the headlines: our readers care deeply about Flint and the people who call it home. 

From celebrating local entrepreneurs to mourning those we’ve lost, here’s a recap of some of Flint Beat’s most-read stories of 2021.

Flint will be backdrop for upcoming horror movie

The movie previewed in this May article, “Half Dead Fred,” has since been filmed and is set to premiere in 2022. True to his word, director and writer Bron Theron did cast local talent, including two Flint Beat reporters. Flint Public Art Project founder Joe Schipani also has a small role in the film, which he helped produce alongside Flint documentarian Jessica Revoldt. 

Authentic Caribbean food comes to Flint as one woman realizes her culinary dream

Nisan Wilson, owner of Island Express on Flint’s north side, pursued her dream of opening a Caribbean restaurant after losing her grandfather and seeing her hours as a pharmacy technician cut due to COVID-19. Now the Belize-born entrepreneur is taking orders for oxtail dinners before she even opens. 

Business owner and chef Nisan Wilson poses for a photo in the window of her restaurant, Island Express Caribbean Cuisine on March 14, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Family continues to fight for their loved one killed in ‘justifiable homicide’

Donald Stokes II was killed after walking up to the wrong house on May 23. A man living at that house—on Campbell Street instead of Crawford, where Stokes’ brother lives—shot Stokes three times while the 19-year-old stood outside his front door. The police report is labeled as “justifiable homicide.” Stokes’ family and friends are still fighting that ruling.

After 23 years in prison, this Flint man is out to rebuild his former life

Former Flint party store owner Dion Savage is looking to rebuild where he left off before his decades-long incarceration. He shared the story of what led to his prison sentence, what got him out, and what he hopes lies ahead for him and his family.

Flint Schools explore new vision for vacant Central High School-Whittier campus

Since the two 1920s buildings on the Central High School-Whittier Classical Academy campus were initially considered for mixed-use development, the abandoned property was put up for sale along with 21 other Flint Community School owned properties. However, the school board said it later “voted to keep all high school sites” in that group. At the time, former superintendent Anita Steward said the board planned to demolish those properties, but it remains unclear if that will be the final fate of the Central-Whittier campus.

Flint’s north side is now home to a state-of-the-art recording studio

The Antidote Studio, inside of Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, was designed by East Lansing native Glenn Brown. Brown has also created recording studios for Eminem, Kid Rock, and the Ford Family. While Antidote was opened in early 2020, COVID delayed its official launch until this year.

Jason Crutchfield, also known as Lato, lays down a vocal track on a song he’s working on with Jujuan Thorn, the Vibe Dealer, at The Antidote Studio within the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village on March 3, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

‘He was love’: GoodBoy Clothing founder Oaklin Mixon dies at 38

If Saginaw Street is Flint’s main artery, then Oaklin Mixon was its heartbeat. The GoodBoy Clothing founder and father of five died on Dec. 21 after contracting COVID-19.

​“Oak was a king of Flint, a father that we all wanted to be like, an entrepreneur we all wanted to be like … he was royalty to us,” said Lev Hunter, one of Mixon’s best friends.

Residents over 25 without a degree can attend Flint’s Mott Community College for free

In February, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a $30 million program called Michigan Reconnect, aimed at helping residents 25 or older obtain a “tuition-free associate degree or skills certificate.” According to a Dec. 23 press release from Whitmer’s office, over 170,000 applied for scholarships between Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners, a similar program for essential workers.

‘Silent epidemic’ of severe child sexual abuse is on the rise in Genesee County

As reporter Carmen Nesbitt wrote to open this story covering the rise in child sexual abuse during the COVID pandemic: “This article will get tough to read. Don’t stop.”

Flint businessman looks to reopen Pirate’s Park

After taking third in a local pitch competition, Flint optician Danen Williams gained media attention for his hopeful reopening of Pirate’s Park, a long-closed amusement park on Miller Road. Though a prior attempt to reopen the park failed, Williams presented a piecemeal strategy for making the site operational again by Sep. 2022.

Danen Williams carries his daughter Hadley under a miniature golf bridge at the former Pirate’s Park in Flint Township on Oct. 15, 2021. Williams got the keys to the park that day and took his daughters on a walk through. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Flint mourns ‘family man’ killed in hit and run, police chief says ‘reckless driving’ on the rise

Quetez Quinn, a beloved Flint resident and owner of Sir Q’s Barbeque, was killed on July 26—the result of a hit and run. Police Chief Terence Green attributed part of 2021’s increase in reckless driving incidents to the state’s moratorium on fines for people with an expired license, state ID, and vehicle registration. The moratorium was put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New location will bring Flint’s Spectacular Spudz founder closer to franchise dream

Spectacular Spudz, a baked potato eatery at Flint Farmers’ Market, was meant to open in a new downtown location in fall 2021. Due to unexpected contractor delays in her new space, Spudz owner Keysa Smith said she’s now hoping to open in April 2022. However, she promised the wait will be worth it for her guests. “We’ll have a liquor license,” she said.

Owner of Spectacular Spudz, Keysa Smith, takes customers orders on a busy Thursday afternoon at the Flint Farmers Market on Aug. 5, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Mott Foundation pauses funding to Flint Schools, students to lose services, superintendent says

Over the summer the Mott Foundation halted around $4.7 million in pending grant renewals for Flint schools. In a letter to the school board, Mott Foundation CEO Ridgeway White noted that the pause was because the Foundation wished to communicate with then-superintendent Anita Stewart without board oversight. (Stewart had been barred from speaking with community partners and foundations without the presence of the board president or their designee over issues of transparency.) Ultimately, the Mott Foundation reversed its decision days later.

For 48 years, he’s been a grandfather, father, uncle, and mentor—all from prison

Horace Peterson was convicted of first degree murder in the early 70’s, although he never held the gun that his friend used to kill Lorrie Snyder. Over his nearly 50 years behind bars, the law under which Peterson was convicted has been abolished; he’s become a grandfather and a great grandfather, a great-uncle and a great-great-uncle; and he’s mentored men in prison who’ve since been released on crimes they actually did commit. 

Since the publication of this story Peterson’s family has submitted a commutation application. They are awaiting a decision.

Did you have a favorite story this year? Tell us below in the comments.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....