She’s made history time and time again!
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan was one of the worst cases of environmental racism we have ever seen but for one little girl, it was personal. Mari Copeny was just 8 years old when it happened, and in an effort to help in any way she could, she did the only thing her young mind could conceive, writing a letter to then-President Barack Obama. Surprisingly, the LA Times published the letter, sparking a necessary conversation around the water crisis and moving Obama to make a personal trip to survey the damage done in Flint. He then approved $100 million for relief in the city.
“Letters from kids like you are what make me so optimistic about the future,” Obama wrote to Mari.
Since then, the 14-year-old has dedicated her life to activism, meeting with former Presidents and current political influencers to address the ongoing Flint water issue, while personally crowdfunding campaigns resulting in more than 1 million bottles of water for Flint residents. Mari has raised more than $500,000 for her “Flint Kids” projects, giving out books, school supplies and hosting community events for the children of Flint. She also partnered with water filter company Hydroviv to distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of high-capacity lead removal filters to families and organizations in the city.
Known nationally as “Little Miss Flint,” Mari has received a number of honors for her work, making history as the youngest delegate ever selected to the U.S. Delegation to the 65th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the youngest and first woman recipient of the 2022 Billboard Music Awards Change Maker of the Year award. Mari has also served as a Youth Ambassador to the Women’s March on Washington, the National Climate March, and serves on the board of directors for Kid Box. She is also a member of 18 x Eighteen, a national initiative encouraging youth to vote when they turn 18.
Despite all of her accolades, Mari maintains that her first and constant priority is her hometown of Flint, Michigan, the children there constantly inspiring her to do more.
“[My vision for the future is] that no child has to ever fight for clean drinking water…The kids at home in Flint are my biggest inspiration, every project I do is for them from my water filters to backpacks and school supplies. Stepping up and making sure that those basic needs are met, along with all the fun events…makes me want to work even harder,” Mari told Because Of Them We Can.
She’s grateful for all of the opportunities she received and all of the other youth that she’s inspired to action. Recently named on the Ebony Power 100 Generation Next list and as an honoree on Black Enterprise’s 40 Under 40 list, Mari says the only way she’ll be able to continue this work is if people keep showing up when she calls.
“The best way to support me is always show up when I ask for help, make sure that I have resources and people behind me at all times to accomplish whatever project or event I am working on,” she explained.
To support Mari’s work visit www.maricopeny.com.
Congratulations Mari on becoming one of BOTWC’s 2023 Young Frontrunners. Because of you, we can! To view all the amazing 2023 Young Frontrunners, visit botwc.com/youngfrontrunners.
Cover photo: 2023 ‘Young Frontrunner’ honoree Mari Copeny is ensuring every child has access to clean water/Photo Courtesy of Mari Copeny/BecauseOfThemWeCan