Amariyanna "Mari" Copeny got her first taste of activism at age 8 when she began protesting the ongoing Flint water crisis. Now, at just 13 years old, Copeny (aka "Little Miss Flint") continues to serve as a powerful voice in the fight against racial injustice and environmental neglect. Most recently, she partnered with the company, Hydroviv, to raise over $500,000 to provide water purification kits to the Flint community.
The co-hosts of YR Media’s podcast Adult ISH, Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner, had the pleasure of sitting down with Copeny to talk about direct action, her future plans and getting a seat at the table.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Nyge Turner: Welcome Mari! Can you tell us about your journey into activism?
Mari Copeny: I lowkey been doing activism since I was 4. And I would always go with my grandma down to the food banks and pass out food and other necessities for homeless people and people who couldn’t afford all that stuff. And when I hit 8 [years old], the water crisis had started and I wanted to do something to help. So I went to marches and protests. I just had to let my voice be heard.
Around that time, everyone was really into "Hamilton" [the musical], so I hijacked the "Hamilton" hashtag, thinking, “Well, they don’t know about Flint, so I’m gonna post inside of there.” So I said, “This is Flint, Michigan. It has a water crisis. Did you know all this stuff about the water crisis in Flint?” All of a sudden: boom, traction. And then, you know, I wrote a letter to President Obama. And he came to Flint and met me. He had a glass of Flint water and drank it, which was not very swag of him to do. It is what it is like … honestly.
Merk Nguyen: You know, water really does give us life because I mean, more than half of our planet’s covered in it. It makes up at most 60% of our bodies. But still, Flint and America’s water crisis isn’t talked about all the time. Why do you think that is?
MC: Because it’s not something that’s trending all over social media or on the news. It has been seven years since the Flint water crisis started. Seven years without clean water — that’s half my life. But they are slowly fixing the pipes, except they had to postpone it due to [COVID-19]. Like COVID, just leave. Ms. Rona, leave.
NT: While I was doing some research on you, I found a quote that really stuck out to me — really touched my heart. You said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, stand on it with a megaphone.” At 13, you came to a conclusion, that honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around to this day. Where do you think that courage comes from?
MC: I just have to keep on going because I have to do what I have to do. That’s where most of my courage comes from — the people and especially the kids. I like seeing the kids smile when I do huge events. Honestly, it makes me so happy. That’s what raises up my courage.
MN: It must mean a lot to Flint. I mean, no clean running water for seven years and your community is predominantly Black, which goes to show how that this is a form of environmental racism. How does it feel knowing this was and still is happening in your hometown?
MC: Honestly, I’m angered and I’m saddened. But mainly angered. Because we deserve clean water. We deserve to take bubble baths again. We deserve to cook with the water. We deserve to go back to what we were dealing with before. We deserve it.
NT: On a more positive angle, though, what are some wins that you’ve been proud of?
MC: So I don’t know if you heard about this or not, but your girl just got a seat at the table. I’m a United States delegate to the United Nations. On the delegation, I’m able to give my own opinions and have worldwide leaders listen to them.
MN: So what’s one big call to action that you want everyone to know, so that they can do their part in fighting for clean water — even if they don’t have a seat at the U.N. table?
MC: First thing I have to say is that America has a water crisis. And it’s not talked about enough. People think, “Oh, America, a water crisis? I thought it was Flint that had a water crisis.” No, it’s not just Flint. There’s also Newark, New Jersey. They have way more lead in their water than Flint. They have way worse water.
I wish people would pay attention to the issue and actually speak up about it — instead of just ignoring it. I need people to bring their voice to speak about it, and protest and donate. Even if they think they’re not helping, they are helping. They’re helping spread the word. I just need more people to take action.