Environmental Justice Advocate Mari Copeny Speaks At Girls In STEM

Environmental Justice Advocate Mari Copeny shares her story during
Environmental Justice Advocate Mari Copeny shares her story during MSI’s MeetHer event. PHOTO BY STEVEN KOCH.

 Environmental Justice Advocate Mari Copeny Speaks At Girls In STEM

By Tia Carol Jones
Mari Copeny loves helping people. She’s not doing it for clout, she genuinely loves helping people, especially kids. It is why she has so much courage to do what she does.

Copeny became the face of advocating for clean water in Flint, Mich., when she was eight years old. A letter to President Barack Obama changed the trajectory of her life. Now, at 16-years-old, Copeny is inspiring other young people by showing them they can change the world, no matter their age.

Copeny recently spoke at the Museum of Science and Industry as part of the Museum’s MeetHer Speaker Series and Ann M. Drake Girls in STEM Program. The Program, provides opportunities for girls to be exposed to careers in STEM. The goal of the program is to remove barriers to roles in STEM for girls and gender-expansive youth. The hope is that they can pursue whatever career they choose.

Copeny’s speech was the first MeetHer event of 2024, which aims to spotlight female role models in STEM careers by featuring them as instructors and experts throughout Museum programs.

 Young people from CEO Superheroes, CPASS UIC, Carver Elementary, Chicago Austin Youth Travel Adventures, Harmony Community Cares, Holy Family School, Hoover-Schrum School District, Hoyne Elementary, Kankakee / J.F. Kennedy School, Johnson School, LEARN Charter Romano Butler School, LEARN Charter Excel School, Marillac Fine Arts School, Midwest Elite Prep Academy, Park Manor Boys and Girls Club, South Shore Fine Arts School and Wadsworth STEM Elementary attended the event on Saturday, Feb. 24th.

Copeny has distributed more than 1 million bottles of water to Flint residents, raised more than $500,000 for her Flint Kids project, and distributed school supplies, Christmas gifts and Easter baskets as part of Holiday giveaways. Copeny also has partnered with Hydroviv to produce her own water filter.

“She stands as a beacon of inspiration for young individuals everywhere, proving that age is not a barrier to activism, advocacy and making a difference,” said Margy LaFreniere, Education Project Manager at the Museum of Science and Industry. She added that the Museum believes in the importance of representation and that it strives to create a space where everyone, regardless of their background, feels welcome and inspired.

Copeny shared her story about how switching the city’s water source from the Great Lakes to the Flint River and not treating the water affected her family and the other Flint residents. Those residents reported having health issues, including an increase in lead levels of the children who lived there. Copeny said she felt helpless about the water situation but wanted to do something.

 She started to attend marches and protests with her mother. They also started to pass out water and supplies to the people in the community. She garnered the name Little Miss Flint.

“Back when I was eight years old, I thought only Flint was dealing with bad water. But, the only thing that makes the Flint Water Crisis unique is the manner in which it occurred. I never imagined that water issues are one of the most common problems in the U.S., especially in areas with low-income and minority populations,” Copeny said, adding that America has a water crisis and noted that cities like Jackson, Miss., Newark, N.J, Los Angeles and Chicago are on the list for toxic water.

While Copeny gave her speech, photos of her marching, distributing water, as well as photos of her with well-known people like President Barack Obama, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Filmmaker Spike Lee were shown above her. At the end of her speech, she received a standing ovation from the audience.

During the question-and-answer portion, one young girl asked Mari how it felt to know that she changed the world. Mari said she was shocked, and she never expected so many people to support her. She said she was really proud of herself.

For more information about Girls in STEM, visit msichicago.org. For more information about Mari Copeny, visit www.maricopeny.com.

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