Recently, many of my friends shared an article that highlighted the negative aspects of Flint. As someone who has lived in Flint his entire life (except for the four years when I went away to college), I was disappointed to see such a negative article by Laura Dimon, a New York-based writer who admits she has never visited Flint. (I have to give her kudos here for how she has responded to people via Twitter; she has been very gracious.)
Has Flint faced tough times? Certainly. I don’t think it’s possible to lose 80,000 jobs from the primary employer (General Motors) and not go through some period of change. But the negative press and statistics focus on a very small area of the City of Flint — this information certainly isn’t reflective of the entire City of Flint, nor of the greater Flint area, which also includes Burton, Clio, Davison, Flint Township, Flushing, Genesee, Grand Blanc, Mt. Morris, and Swartz Creek.
No, there is much more that is positive about Flint…
When I think of Flint, I think of family. Not just because my own family is from there and continues to live there, but because of the many multi-generational families who live in Flint. I thought of this the other day while watching my son say goodbye to one set of grandparents who live in another state. I was fortunate to have both sets of grandparents — my father’s parents and my mother’s parents — live in the Flint area, as well as many uncles, aunts, and cousins. Every holiday was a family get-together. Many of my childhood vacations involved our family going “up north” to a cabin or campground to enjoy time together. To me, Flint is family.
Believe it or not, at one time, Flint was a destination point for families who were looking for work. My paternal grandfather and grandmother both grew up in the Owensboro, Kentucky area. My grandfather served in the European theater in the U.S. Army in World War II, and when he returned home and married my grandmother, he went looking for work. He knew he didn’t want to be a farmer, as his father had been, so he went to the labor office in Louisville. They told him that construction was booming in a few northern areas, and offered him work in Ohio, Detroit, or Flint. He turned to my grandmother and said, “Have you ever heard of Flint, Michigan?” When she responded, “No,” he answered, “Then that’s where we’ll go.”
When they arrived in Flint, the construction crew had to wait two weeks for the corn to be harvested from the fields before they could begin building what would eventually be GM’s Truck and Bus Plant. It seems funny now, since that building is at the southeast corner of the I-75/I-69 interchange, but there really used to be corn fields there. When the corn had been harvested, construction began, and my grandfather worked there until the GM plant was built. When construction was done and the crew was ready to move on to a new building, my grandfather quit the construction crew and hired in at the GM plant he had just helped build. He worked for General Motors in that plant until he retired. My dad graduated from high school in 1964, and when he turned 18 later that year, he hired in at the same GM plant, and worked there 41.5 years until he retired.
That’s how Flint was known for many, many years — a place where families could go to find good work, where their children could grow up in good schools, and eventually find good jobs when they were ready to join the workforce.
Many of those good families are still in Flint — still finding good work where and when they can, and still looking to contribute in a positive way to build something good and lasting for their community and their country. Here is a list of some of the good things they’ve built in the Flint community:
- University of Michigan-Flint — providing education to over 8,600 students in over 100 areas of study.
- Kettering University — founded in 1919 as The School of Automobile Trades to train engineering and management personnel for the automotive industry. Renamed General Motors Institute (GMI) in 1926, and then to Kettering University in 1998.
- Baker College — the largest independent college in Michigan.
- Mott Community College
- Buick Gallery — as the birthplace of General Motors, it’s only fitting that Flint would have a facility dedicated to the history of cars. The gallery has a regular collection and special exhibits.
- Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad — an authentic Great Lakes town from the turn of the 19th century, with over 34 historic structures. Ride the historic Huckleberry Railroad, catch a show at the Colwell Opera House, or learn a trade from the craftspeople. They have fun events at the village, including A Day Out With Thomas, the Halloween Ghosts and Goodies, and the Christmas at Crossroads Holiday Magic. It really is a fantastic place!
- Flint Institute of Music — provides the Flint Symphony Orchestra, the Flint School of Performing Arts, and the Flint Youth Theatre.
- Genesee County Parks — the organization that oversees Michigan’s largest county park system, with more than 11,000 acres of woods, rivers, lakes, trails, beaches, and campgrounds at 21 parks. Highlights include Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad, For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum, the Mounds Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Area, and Wolverine Campground.
- Longway Planetarium — Michigan’s largest star-gazing facility.
- Sloan Museum — not only does the museum include local and regional history, but they have many popular special exhibits throughout the year. My family has annual passes to the museum.
- Whiting Auditorium — a 2,043 seat theater that is home to the Flint Symphony Orchestra, Annual Holiday Pops, and many other community graduations, recitals and events. Each year, the Whiting also presents Broadway, music, comedy, theatre, dance, and many more shows throughout the season.
- Back to the Bricks — a multi-day event that brings classic cars, and the people who love those cars, back to the famous brick-paved Saginaw Street in downtown Flint.
- Bikes on the Bricks — similar to the Back to the Bricks event, this event focuses on motorcycles.
- Crim Festival of Races — while the Festival of Races is held annually on the fourth Saturday of August, featuring a teddy bear trot, the Michigan Mile, a 5K, an 8K, and the famous 10-mile race, the Crim Fitness Foundation also offers a year-round Crim-Fit Wellness Program, the Adult Training Program, and the CrimFit Youth Program.
- Flint Art Fair — held each year in June.
- Flint Jazz Festival — recently celebrated their 30th anniversary
- Flintstone Challenge — a 5K race held each May to benefit the Flint Community School System through the Classroom Support Fund Grant Program.
- Golden Memories Car Show — an event exclusively for original or authentically restored vehicles produced in 1963 or earlier. Held each year in September.
- Sloan Museum Auto Fair — a two-day car show with more than 700 classic automobiles on display. Held each year in June.
- Tour de Crim — a community bike ride event, held in the spring, that follows the Crim’s famous 10-mile blue line.
- Flint Farmer’s Market — I love the award-winning Flint Farmer’s Market. It really is a regular favorite destination of ours on Saturdays. I’ll even go down there on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer for lunch with co-workers.
- Halo Burger — another Flint original, Halo Burger is home to the famous olive burger and the Boston Cooler. “7 days without a Halo Burger makes one weak!”
- Koegel Meats — ask someone from Flint what hot dog they prefer, especially for their coneys, and I bet that almost all of them would answer “Koegel’s.” I love one of their slogans: “Made up to a quality, not down to a price.”
I can’t think of the positive things in Flint without thinking of the many good people who have contributed to make these things happen. Yes, many of the larger events and venues require sponsorship from corporations or foundations, but many things would simply be impossible without individual contributors and volunteers. Here are some of the more well-known philanthropic organizations in the Flint community.