Politics Overshadow Flint, Michigan Water Crisis, Says Atlantic Records SVP Dallas Martin
By Shana Renee Stephenson, Contributor
The scene depicted in the above tweet was Flint, Michigan one year ago on World Water Day. In the following months, this protest of 20 people evolved into an issue that put the entire country on alert as lead seeped into the community’s drinking water and residents fell ill and some died. To commemorate World Water Day, a day to learn more about water related issues around the globe, I talked to Dallas Martin, Flint native, SVP of Atlantic Record A&R and Maybach Music Group A&R, for his point of view on the current situation in his hometown.
Shana Renee Stephenson: A year ago, Flint citizens protested the conditions of the water on this global holiday. What does it mean to you that a year later people are suffering from the same conditions?
Dallas Martin: It’s so unfortunate, especially to see the city I was born and raised in to have to go through conditions where they can’t even bathe properly, or cook food, or go to the faucet to get tap water to drink. It’s sad to see how many people are affected because of the lead poisoning and it’s super sad to see all the kids that have to deal with this.
SS: Would you say that Flint is any better off than it was a year ago at this time?
DM: I would say, the only reason they’re a little better off is because there’s been some awareness, and it’s been people trying to help out and help with the conditions in terms of the bottled water. But at the end of the day, it’s the pipes that need to be restructured and until that happens, it’s like putting a Band-Aid on the whole situation. It isn’t always the best solution.
SS: What do you think it will take for the world to hear Flint’s cries about the water conditions?
DM: It’s very sad, but it seems that the cities with the most poverty have to go through the most to get awareness for what’s going on. If this happened in Beverly Hills, the governor of California would’ve been fired. It would’ve been a big conspiracy theory thing. It would’ve been a lot of people that would’ve had to take repercussions for the actions, but unfortunately with Flint being a mostly Black city, and it being a poor city, it’s not getting the attention it really needs. There are kids [here]. Even though a lot of people that were coming to help, were bringing bottled water, and were bringing awareness, which the city is very thankful for, it still hasn’t really helped change the conditions and people are still in a situation where they can’t even take showers, drink water out the faucet, or cook food. There are only so many things you can do with a bottle of water. Nobody can take showers every day putting eight bottled waters on their body. It’s just crazy.
SS: Let’s talk about the government a little bit. If you had a message for government officials on the local level as well as the federal level, what would you say?
DM: I feel like the governor needs to be charged. He was fully aware of this. He knew about the conditions. People were protesting a year ago. He didn’t make any changes. Instead of making sure the city of Flint was taken care of properly and these people who were protesting for the cause were taken care of. Basically he did something to save money for the state, but he put all of these people’s lives in danger. It’s just really unfortunate. But he definitely needs to … it’s really something that needs to be investigated for what he’s done.
SS: Yes, people have lost their lives as a result of this.
DM: Yes, they’re saying kids are getting brain damage and their finding all of this lead in all of these kids. It’s horrible. And what are people going to do in the meantime as they try to figure out how to fix the pipes? In a month or two, people are going to stop talking about this. And it’s an election year and they’ve already stopped talking about it on all of the mainstream news networks. Because it’s an election year, people want to talk about Trump and Hillary Clinton and the presidential election, but this is a lot bigger news than all of that. But unfortunately, it’s an election so it’s overshadowed. It’s overshadowing what’s going on in Flint.
SS: CNN did host its Democratic Debate in Flint. Do you think that helped bring any awareness to any of the issues there?
DM: I’m always skeptical about how politicians move. I’m glad that they did it in Flint to at least bring some sort of awareness to what’s going on, but I don’t really think they focused on what was going on in Flint the whole time that they were there. There weren’t really any real initiatives suggested to get this problem solved.
SS: Let’s talk about initiatives because I know you’ve been really instrumental in rallying support from entertainers in the hip-hop community. How has getting their involvement benefited the community? And what about this situation made you say, “I have these relationships and I want to leverage them for the greater good. I don’t want to be one of those people just watching from the sidelines?”
DM: The fact that I’m from there and I grew up in that city that’s done so much for me. I still have friends that live there. I have friends with kids that live there, and the stories that I hear are troubling. With me, I’m not the richest music executive in the business, but I do have a platform and friends who are very rich and have millions of followers and I just wanted to make sure that they knew how important it was to me. And, it was important for them to know what’s really going on out here. This could be happening in their own communities!
SS: You discussed having friends in Flint, and friends with kids in Flint, do you have any personal stories you can share on how this has affected their lives?
DM: I’ve had friends tell me that they can’t even cook a decent meal or use the water faucet to clean their meats. Having to use bottled water to shower every day, and it’s just not conducive to living. Imagine you had to take a shower every day and getting three or four bottles of water to pour over your body or put on a rag to wash yourself. That’s just ridiculous.
SS: Have you been back to Flint? Talked to people in the community and gotten a feeling for how they’re coping?
DM: I’ve been back to Flint one time to see some friends and their families. But I have a real close friend of mine that works with a lot of the kids and he does a lot. He and I talk every day, not every day, but we talk a lot to try to figure out things. But he’s working really closely with the mayor. His name is David McGee, he asked Hillary a few questions at the debate, but he’s super influential in the city. But there’s just only so much one person can do. It’s going to take a unified front and it’s going to take a lot of people to get together to help change this problem. Russell Simmons came to Flint and he did so many great things. And he really feels like the people of Flint need to evacuate Flint, and I thought that was real interesting because what he saw was just like a city that they don’t want to help. So, what do you do? Do you wait for them to restructure the pipes for six months to a year or…? It’s really in a bad place.
SS: Do you have any other plans in terms of trying to bring attention to this?
DM: Honestly, you could do every concert in the world, but what’s really needed is a real plan for these pipes to be restructured. At the end of the day, I could bring three artists to the city to perform, but it’s not going to generate enough money to do help fix what the real problem is.
SS: So what can people do to help? If people want to help, but don’t know how to help … what do you suggest?
DM: For the time being, the supply of water is definitely needed. We definitely need to still provide water, even thought it’s a Band-Aid. People need a lot of hand sanitizer, baby wipes, but really it’s a government issue, it’s a state issue. They have to figure out what we’re going to do for the people of Flint. It’s not going to be any concert or awareness rallies to really help what we need which is get these pipes together.
SS: Last question: what words of encouragement do you have for the people of your hometown, as they endure this difficult time?
DM: That’s hard. Pray. Stay strong and have faith.