Much like we did last back to school season for tens of thousands of students living in Chicago’s most underfunded communities, STATE will focus its entire back to school efforts on the children of Flint.

Our multi-layered approach will raise awareness around the ongoing water crisis, shed light on the unsung heroes who are rising above the negativity around them, and gear up 10,000-plus students for day one of school.

“BUT WHY FLINT?” by STATE Co-Founder, Scot Tatelman

In 9th grade, my social studies teacher, Mr Keeney showed us a film about the struggles of Flint, Michigan entitled “Roger & Me.” I remember watching it in awe, wondering how this type of thing could happen in my own country… not too far away from where I grew up in Massachusetts. The film always stuck with me, and since we launched STATE, I itched to find a way to support Flint in some way, beyond just donating backpacks.

Not too long ago, Flint thrived as one of the nation's largest automakers. It has since sunk into deep economic crises, leading to high crime rates, and repeatedly being named among "the most dangerous cities in the US."

Four years ago, a man-made water crisis forced its residents - a majority of which are black and 40% in poverty - to live with lead poisoned water. Following dozens of lawsuits, officials resignations, criminal indictments and a federal public health state of emergency, Flint residents are still living with the realities of this deadly issue. Four years after it started. Four. Years.

I once again find myself in awe that this public health crisis, affecting thousands of American citizens could continue happening in our own backyard for this absurd amount of time.

Recently, funding for bottled water programs has dried up despite decaying pipes and drinking and showering water that is undeniably hazardous. Despite public opinion that this crisis is behind Flint, and outcries for help, the issue and dangers are still very much a part of residents' daily lives.

So… what do we tell the kids of Flint? Thousands of them who have been overlooked and marginalized simply because of their zip codes?

We can start by shedding light on their struggles and stories, highlighting the positive efforts and people driving their city, and gearing them up for back to school, so they are equipped to beat the odds so stacked against them.

We are proud to present our newest #WhatDoWeTellTheKids project, featuring Flint’s Fantastic Five, who represent everything this city is all about: resiliency, pride and love. Their superhero personas are highlighted here, amplified by the incredibly talented illustrator, Butcher Billy.

Little Miss Flint, Mari Copeny

Why Mari’s one of our Flint Fantastic Five

Mari Copeny was six years old when the Flint water crisis began, but her age didn’t stop her from getting involved to make a change. Since she was a little girl Mari has been considered a vocal advocate for her city and the children in Flint, giving her the title, “Little Miss Flint.”

When she was just eight years old, she wrote a letter to President Obama - a letter that convinced him to take his first trip to her hometown. Mari kept going, delivering hundreds of thousands of water bottles, sold t-shirts and created fundraising campaigns to raise both money and awareness for Flint.

Today, she is an ambassador for the Women’s March, Equality For HER and the Climate March. She is also the creator of #DearFlint, where people across the globe are sending children in Flint positive messages and inspirational letters. The young activist has done more in her ten years than most people can say they have in their lifetime. “Just because we are kids doesn’t mean that we can’t change the world.”

Jada Coleman

Why Jada’s one of our Flint Fantastic Five

Jada’s work has always been focused on the residents of her hometown of Flint. A graphic designer who started by selling t-shirts, she launched “810H2O” - an activist group created to support the city’s youth by providing both funds and art platforms for students to use as a social outlet. Proceeds from her shirts go towards CMB Basketball - a nonprofit organization which helps student athletes who are rising above the ongoing water crisis and violence occuring in their city.

Our STATE Squad will be geared up this back to school season in custom 810H20 shirts!

Tracy Palmer

Why Tracy’s one of our Flint Fantastic Five

At 12 years old, Tracy’s family made the move from Illinois to Flint. Her community work goes well beyond supporting those impacted by the water crisis as she believes that building confidence and self esteem will give young people what they need to ensure a successful future no matter the odds stacked against them. She created the Try to Bully Me campaign, and has continued her anti-bullying efforts with workshops focused on education around bullying, statistics and resources.

Tracy has allowed children and adults in Flint to feel comfortable with who they are, creating a safe place where feelings can be discussed, and bullying can be dismissed. As a leader and positive role model, Tracy has made her community a stronger, better more resilient place.

Jessyca Mathews

Why Jessyca’s one of our Flint Fantastic Five

Throughout her own education, Jessyca had a hard time connecting with her educators because of the difference in their skin color. In college she began to notice the lack of African American teachers, which is how she decided she would become an activist teacher. “I was going to devote my life to making other young people understand that we must fight for change as a teacher of color.” And she did exactly that… now proudly carrying the title of 2018 Teacher of the Year.

She has taught her students to voice their strong opinions, and channel their frustration, fear and anger around the issues surrounding their embattled community.

Born and raised in Flint whose father inspired her to become an activist and stand up for what she thought was right, she has given her students the power to turn their stories and tragedies into passion and creativity.

Nayyirah Shariff

Why Nayyirah’s one of our Flint Fantastic Five

Nayyirah’s tireless efforts have been key since the beginning of the water crisis. She is a grassroots organizer from Flint that’s been on the front lines of various civil movements for decades.

In 2011 she founded Flint Democracy Defence League, which has been involved in bottled water giveaways, forming town meetings and much more. She’s now the Director of Flint Rising - a coalition of community organizations working to ensure that directly impacted people of the water crisis are given the future they need and deserve.