'Double Challenge Mode in Flint' For The New York Times - Summer 2020.
This series looks at the lives of Abdullah El-Alamin, Claudia Perkins-Milton and Jeree Brown and their environment. The three represent a large portion of Flint residents invested in their community and who have had to find ways to adapt through crisis after crisis.
Abdullah El-Alamin, 39, runs the MADE Institute, a non-profit that offers transitional services for the formerly incarcerated. Landscaping was one of the first trades Abdullah learned when he was released from prison and it’s now one of many skills he tries to teach those who live and work at MADE's transitional homes. He has invested in a new greenhouse where he hopes they can learn small-scale farming and has plans to revitalize the neighborhood around the home. Abdullah found Ramadan especially challenging amid the pandemic and said he missed his community at the local mosque.
Claudia Perkins-Milton is a former UAW organizer and was the first African-American woman to serve in a high ranking position for her UAW chapter's bargaining committee. Today, she is focused on her activism as a "Water Warrior" and ran a campaign for State Representative. Claudia is known by others as a fighter. On mother's day of this year she was admitted into the hospital with COVID-19. Her daughter, a school teacher in Texas, flew up immediately to help her recover. She's been able to bounce back at 67-years-old and plans to continue forward with her activism.
Jeree Brown, 32, lives with her husband and three children Jhy’Lah, 1, Ja’Nyah, 9, and Jabari Jr., 8. At first, the pandemic brought about small, steady challenges. The program her husband works for via Consumers Energy was cancelled and he was subsequently laid off. Since the children were home, the grocery bill became more expensive. The Kroger where she buys water started limiting one case per visit. For a while, she couldn’t find free pickup sites near her home.
Then, in early May, her grandmother, for whom she was a caretaker, passed away from natural causes. Soon after, her aunt and two uncles passed from COVID-19.
On May 15, Jeree’s family was forced to hold a triple memorial service for her grandmother and two uncles. They wore custom masks with her grandmother’s and uncle's age printed on the front. She often has trouble sleeping from the mounting stresses in her life.
Today, she is actively searching for a home outside of the city. The city project that was set to replace her water line had been delayed due to the pandemic and she feels her current home is tainted from the city's water crisis. Still, she has managed to graduate nursing school. She finds laughter with her children and remains a strong advocate for her son, Jabari, who has autism. In the tradition of many women from Flint, she continues to put the needs of her family first.