For months I’d heard stories about the crisis in Flint, Michigan and carried a sense of heaviness that I couldn’t shake. I struggled to wrap my mind around how government officials would prioritize bottom lines and budgets over the health and safety of the people they were called to serve. How does something like this happen? How could a local government be so inept and dismissive of the well being of residents that it would expose thousand to lead and other toxins because of their negligence?
But even in turning those questions around in my mind for months, I was not prepared to hear that Flint is the tip of the iceberg. I was not prepared to hear that we have a national lead epidemic on our hands.
In an op-ed written for the New York Times, Emily Benfer, Director of the Health Justice Project at Loyola University Chicago, points out what many of us are slowly coming to realize – reports of lead poisoning are increasing around the country particularly in areas populated by low-income and minority children. 1.6 million households with children at risk for lead poisoning because outdated federal policies, in place since the 1990’s, fail to protect them.
1.6 million families with children.
One million, six hundred thousand families with children.
1,600,000 families with children.
No matter how I write it out, that number remains the same and what’s terrifying is that this 1.6 million does not actually account for the number of CHILDREN at risk, just the number of families.
When that reality hit me, I slid down a wall and wailed. What else can one do when they first hear that millions of our nation’s children are at risk for devastating and permanent harm due to the presence of a neurotoxin in their federally subsidized homes?
With tear streaked cheeks and hoarse voice, I asked God how could this have happened and what could be done. I realized it’s not the former question that needs response in this moment as much as the latter.
What can I do? What can we do?
We must take action.
Proverbs 31: 8-9 says “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
We must take that call to justice literally.
We must raise our voices for the child who cannot speak because lead poisoning has rendered him mute.
We must work for justice for the mother whose dreams of security were crushed after unknowingly relocating to a home where all of her children experienced brain damage due to the lead toxicity present in it.
We must speak up for these families and see that they are kept safe from harm because their lives are sacred and should be treated as such.
We must unite, protect our children, and end this #leadepidemic.
Raising my voice means that I am working to educate others on this epidemic and rally support for the Lead Safe Housing for Kids Act (S2821/HR4694). This bill will identify lead hazards before a child is harmed, ensure that federal policies reflect the prevailing science, and allow families living in toxic homes to move if they so choose – all things that our current laws do not account for.
If you want to lift your voice in concert with mine, consider signing this petition. We are calling on people to live our their faith by working for justice. If we truly hold that life is sacred, we have a responsibility to care for one another and protect the most vulnerable in our society.
This bill and our advocacy for it can do just that. If we act together, we can encourage Congress to due what localities have failed to do – prioritize the well being of the American people and end the #leadepidemic!