“Inspiration in the wake of desperation.” That’s the theme of a powerful documentary called For Flint.
In the film, director Brian Schulz shows the foundation for a rebuilt Flint can be found in the lives of its neighbors.
Profiled in the documentary are three Flint residents, including Leon El-Alamin and Valerie Horton.
El-Alamin is the founder and executive director of the M.A.D.E. Institute, which stands for “Money, Attitude, Direction, and Education.” Horton is an artist and former General Motors worker. She’s co-director of the Chosen Few Arts Council.
Both joined Stateside today to discuss what they do for their city and why.
Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.
On what inspired El-Alamin to found the M.A.D.E. Institute, which is comprehensive programming for at-risk youth and returning citizens
El-Alamin: “While I was incarcerated, I had an opportunity to meet a couple of the people… who really became like mentors to me and impressed upon me about making better decisions in my life and helped me recognize that I had a lot of influence on my peers. And if I was just to channel that energy into something positive, then I can have a great impact in some people’s lives and do greater things. And I took that to heart and while serving my time behind the walls, I began to reach into my spirituality, history, and I read a lot. You know, I had a real long talk with God and he just put it up on my heart that if I was given another chance, an opportunity to come back out here, then I wanted to do something positive. I wanted to be a part of positive change, and reach some young folks and steer them down a better path. And I just wanted to give back, because I felt like I had took so much away from the community.”
On one thing Horton’s Chosen Few Art Council, where kids explore their creative side, does for children in Flint
Horton: “We know, especially with the water crisis, kids need to know that art is not just drawing. You know, the things that will help them with the issues that they’re going to have because of being connected with the lead issue will be things like understanding I can make choices, being creative and understanding that I can do this, there’s no, 'I can’t do this.' They make wonderful art pieces. And it’s been a blessing. It’s been a blessing for us, and it’s been a blessing for the community.”
On why both agreed to be part of this film
El-Alamin: “Flint is my home. I’ve been born and raised here my whole life. I’m 37 years old and I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. For a large part of my life, my adolescent years, I went off the wrong path and caused a lot of destruction and damage to the reality that we see now… contributed to it. And I just think it was only right, once I got myself together mentally, to come back and help out in any kind of way that I can, to help bring back Flint.”
Horton: “Well, we’ve heard so many negative things about Flint and I’m in my sixties and I was here when Flint was thriving and really, kind of ushered in the middle class for the United States. And I’ve watched it decline… I wanted to be sure that it showed a positive light on Flint, because there are a lot of positive things happening.”