It’s now been one year since the Whaley House fire. At this point I’ve heard many stories about how people heard about the fire, whether they received a call from someone who saw the house, or they saw the breaking news coverage cut into their afternoon programming. I remember the day like it was yesterday and still have moments where those feelings swell inside me.
This year has been tough. I’m going to be honest, because I see no reason to hide emotion behind some veil of professionalism. I’ve cried a lot, and I still do sometimes. I’ve wanted to give up. I’ve wondered how something like this could happen to an innocent little museum just tyring to get by. I’ve put on many happy, positive faces when talking to the community at moments when all I want to do is pull my hair out and stomp my feet. I’ve made grim jokes with other museum colleagues who have been through similar things or can, at least, imagine what I’m experiencing. Laughing has helped. But, something else has helped even more… Flint, you’ve helped.
I’m not a Flint native. I was born and raised on the sunset side of the Mitten and continued there, by going to Ferris State University for my Bachelor’s degree and then Western Michigan University for my Master’s. Our in-state family vacations were spent along Lake Michigan or in the Upper Peninsula, so I really wasn’t very familiar with the East side of the state at all. But, I’ve come to love Flint.
These things happen to Flint. Hardships, setbacks, disasters of magnificent proportions, but we’re still here. We still care about the city and its businesses, institutions, and the people who call it home. When faced with a blow, ten hands will shoot out of the dust to pull you up, because it’s what we do. The city has grit. It’s residents have huge hearts. Whether I walk into the Farmer’s Market on a personal coffee or cookie mission or am taking part in a community event, I am constantly amazed at the resiliency and bond the people of the city have. It’s unspoken, but it’s there. We’re in it together. We’re working to move it forward. I can’t give up on Flint, either. The Whaleys didn’t give up after the fizzle of the lumber industry. They continued working in and caring for the city through their philanthopy and business. Robert contributed to the creation of General Motors, Mary participated in several community groups, one of which grew into the Flint Public Library. They set aside the resources to create the Whaley Children’s Center and the McFarlan Home. They kept going and so will I.
So, after the fire, I didn’t even need to ask and folks from all over offered help. Some from museums, others with space to offer as an office, and other individuals asking if we’d need furniture donations or donations of time for whatever volunteering we’d need. Throughout the year numerous organizations have offered us space to hold programs and offered their programs as opportunitie for us to stay active. Many have donated money, far more than I could ever mention, while others have simply stuck by us and offered words of encouragement. Our members have renewed their membership, letting us know that they still care for and believe in us.
Myself and a Whaley volunteer working a Whaley House booth at an Applewood event over the summer!
And that, it seems, is what Flint has always needed and is never in short supply of: someone to believe in it. In its early years it needed someone to believe in it as the location of a city, then in the various industries that made it. It took people with ideas and money to believe in the city’s future and then it took the people who actually used their hands in factories, stores, and other aspects of its economy. Once GM closed up shop, it took people believing in a new future for the city, believing that there is more to Flint than the decades of its “Vehicle City” fame and now look at where we are. Look at downtown, the Cultural Center, and the colleges and universities. Look at all of the small business owners and the visionaries behind some of the city’s amazing nonprofit organizations. Look at the changes a few decades have made, all with an unspoken bond, an ample helping of grit, an appreciation for this city’s heritage (because loving this city is loving its history), and a belief in the future.
So, this December, please support the city. Take your friends out to eat downtown. Shop for local gifts. Give to the organizations that support Flint. Those of us fighting to make it better, appreciate the support, in any way it may come. Hopefully next year we’ll be back in action with even more entertaining and educational opportunities than ever.
Thanks, Flint, for everything.