UM-Flint student Cherish Dean shares the story of how and why she came to not just accept but love the city she goes to school in. (Santiago Ochoa)
UM-Flint student Cherish Dean shares the story of how and why she came to not just accept but love the city she goes to school in.

Santiago Ochoa

Hyphen Flint Essay Winner: Rooted, But Not Sedentary (or Sedimentary)

March 16, 2020

I won’t lie to you.

In the past, I never seriously considered the University of Michigan-Flint as an option for me. As a product of my upbringing, my typical environment, and my peers, I had fallen victim to that insidious snobbery. Hyphen-Flint was shameful. A smack in the face to all my interminable efforts and higher aspirations in school prior to college. A consolation prize or participation trophy when I’d had my eyes on the gold. 

But in my time here, I’ve come to realize all that is gold does not glitter … no, really, don’t let the Lord of the Rings reference carry you away. I’ve got something to say. 

As a child, I didn’t understand what people’s issue was with Flint. 

To me, Flint meant going to my grandma’s house throughout the year, for weekends and for birthdays and for holidays. In August, it meant braving the burning sun to strike out on the bricks and ooh and ahh over classic cars while I begged my mom for cotton candy. 

Then as I grew up, especially coming from suburban Grand Blanc, I began to hear the whispers.

Most dangerous city, stay away from the east side/north side/south side/west side, avoid the projects, and then finally as I hit high school, water crisis. 

And I knew these things, in part, were true. My oldest sister got shot in her knee just outside of downtown following Back to the Bricks one year. The shock and stress caused her to go into labor. Oh yeah–she was pregnant. And one of my grandma’s cars was stolen. The two of them and my brother lived and continue to live in Flint. We helped the stack waters in their garages and watched as they installed filters. 

And hey, I bet you heard the whispers too, so let me clarify one point: my sister was not shot because of violence. It was an accident. Not all gunshots are; I’m not ignorant of the realities. Still, these things didn’t have to define Flint. And for me, they don’t. Let me show you what I’ve seen.

Despite having family there and occasional excursions to the Farmer’s Market or the Whiting, my experience of Flint as I got older became more and more limited. Coming back to Flint in this way, as a student at the university, pulled the wool from my eyes. It hit reset on my assumptions. It forced me to give the city a second chance. And … as I have approached nearly everything in my life, I threw myself into it with everything I had. 

An oft-touted joke of mine is “I’m on campus more than people who live here.” As a commuter student, I was desperate to create a college community as my high school friends scattered near and far. I attended every Wolverine Welcome event, lingered after class to speak with professors, joined club upon club, looked at every poster on every cork board and pillar. 

Thank God I did. 

I’ve had three hour conversations with professors whose classes I haven’t even taken. I’ve had the pleasure of remaining connected with a professor I did have following the conclusion of a class, even getting to go out to lunch with a couple other students afterward. 

I joined a specific group with my mother known as the Flint Language and Cultural Club. We were a diverse bunch, spanning several ethnicities, races and countries, and as we sat at the inaugural meeting at Good Beans–an underappreciated Flint staple–I reflected on how ignorant I was, or had been, to once think that such a city wouldn’t be capable of containing so many interesting, ambitious and talented individuals. 

Over the summer following my Freshman year, I made the decision to join a flash fiction workshop at the Marian E. Wright Writing Center. Sure, the workshop ended up being just me and two writing center employees I’d just met, but it was a blast! I’m absolutely not saying that  just because I, myself, work there now (but I’ll admit I’m biased). 

I am glad, now, to have been raised so near to Flint and to have had the chance to attend school here. It has humbled me in a manner I was too prideful to know I needed, and it has grown within me a new pride for having personal roots cracking the red bricks of that downtown street. 

Yet as I said before, I won’t lie to you. I can’t say I don’t yearn to leave, to travel and explore the state, the country, the whole wide world beyond Flint, but what I can do and say is make the effort to explain that when I do leave, I’m not leaving Flint because it’s Flint

When I leave, it’ll be simply because it is my nature. To infinity and beyond I’ll go and to Flint I shall return intermittently, worldly, maybe one day more permanently. Not all those who wander are lost …

Yes, it might be time for me to step out on my own, but for most of my life, Flint and its community have been a constant and when I leave, they still will be. I would say it’s my rock, but more accurately, I guess I’d better say Flintstone. 

Being here during its struggles and knowing its people has imprinted upon me a value for resilience and experiencing its vibrant community has helped me to remember that there’s always more than meets the eye (or gets reported on the news). I’ve never lived directly in Flint, but a part of me does and always will. 

I’m still growing up and sometimes I still hear whispers, but it’s time to drown them out. You listen to me now and know this: Flint rocks.

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