Flint’s Weaver speaks at Tougaloo Convocation

October 20, 2016 in Education, News

By Ayesha K. Mustafaa

Contributing Writer

Karen Weaver, mayor of Flint, Mich., and Tougaloo alumna, was the guest speaker for the college’s Founders’ Convocation Oct. 16. PHOTO BY JAY JOHNSON

Karen Weaver, mayor of Flint, Mich., and Tougaloo alumna, was the guest speaker for the college’s Founders’ Convocation Oct. 16. PHOTO BY JAY JOHNSON

Tougaloo College celebrated its Founders’ Convocation Oct. 16, in the historic Woodworth Chapel. Culminating the week of activities, Tougaloo welcomed alumna (class of 1981) and mayor of Flint, Mich., Karen Weaver, Ph.D., as the 2016 Founders’ Convocation guest speaker. She is also the city’s first female mayor. Weaver was born in Flint where she was elected as its mayor in November 2015, during the heat of the city’s water scandal that revealed its drinking water was poisoned with high levels of lead and other toxins.

Being asked to speak at Tougaloo’s Founders’ Convocation, Weaver said “ranks at the top of my experiences; I’m honored and thankful to be back at Tougaloo.” She focused on the crisis in Flint and how the city got to the point of first being under emergency rule and then the revelations of poisoned drinking water, when the city trustees decided to shift the water source away from Lake Michigan to the Flint River. “First,” she said, “power was taken away from the mayor, city council of the ‘majority-minority’ city. The governor of Michigan put the city in receivership and began to sell off its assets, including its golf courses, water pipelines and lawn mowers.” Weaver said,

“We lived under a third world dictatorship with no input about where our taxes went. All city workers were fired and then some rehired at double pay.” Weaver said she “put some skin in the game” when she decided to run for mayor. “Every day there was a protest. Children had rashes, and their hair was alling out. The smell of the water was awful. And at the same time those city council members were telling the people, ‘the water is fine.’” Then she found out the same people had stopped drinking the water a year earlier, opting to bring in bottle water for themselves and their families.

Then the medical community began to see test results in babies come back with alarming levels of lead – sometimes double or triple levels before the change in the water supply to the Flint River. At that point, Weaver said she issued an “emergency declaration,” although the city still was not under home rule. When the National Guard was called in to deliver water to the residents, she said her complaint was: “Why not use young boys and people of the community to do that and make a few dollars for themselves. Why not then let them work in an apprenticeship with pipe fitters to repair the city’s waterline?”

She referenced Republican candidate Donald Trump’s message to the black community, “what do you have to lose,” to which she replied: “Everything!” She said Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was instrumental in the charge to restore Flint’s drinking water integrity. The next battle for Weaver was when the public school system said it would hold back students who did not perform at a third-grade level. This she said was an insult for students who were now plagued with high levels of lead in their system. Weaver said, “If we (African Americans) voted at 50 percent, if we showed up at the polls … politicians cater to those who vote; they ignore those who don’t.” After the mayor’s address, Tougaloo President Beverly Hogan said, “Tougaloo remains a special place for democratic ideals, as evident in our speaker today. Tougaloo is a transformative power in America’s democracy.”

Weaver was also welcomed by Derrick Johnson, also a Tougaloo alumnus and executive director of the NAACP Mississippi chapter. The mayor was introduced by her fellow alumna and sorority sister, Glenda Crump, who now serves as operations officer of the Mississippi Public Health Institute. Weaver graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Tougaloo and later obtained her master’s degree from Long Island University, in Brooklyn, N.Y. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Michigan State University. She has held several leadership positions such as director of Behavioral Services at Mott Children’s Health Center from 2000-201, chief operating officer of Ennis Center for Children from September 2012-March 2014 and is currently the owner of Shea Lavelle Boutique, a specialty store for natural skin, hair and body products.

Currently she serves on the following boards: The Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce Operating Board, Downtown Development Authority, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Flint Institute of Arts and as past president of the Pierians Inc., Flint Chapter. Weaver has served as the Flint NAACP Freedom Fund Chair since 2012. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. A section of Woodworth Chapel was filled with Weaver’s family members, many who have ties to Mississippi. “My philosophy of life is: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13),” said Weaver. “From a child up, my parents always inspired me to be a leader and stand up for what I believe in. They taught me the importance of having God in your life first and foremost love of family and being active in your community,” she added. At the revelation of the water woes of Flint, Tougaloo students, staff, faculty and administrators held a rally to get water to the troubled city.

Karen Weaver is shown with Derrick Johnson, who presented her a protriat of Medger Wiley Evers and the ship named in his honor on behalf of the MS State Conference NAACP. PHOTO BY JAY JOHNSON

Karen Weaver is shown with Derrick Johnson, who presented her a portrait of Medger Wiley Evers and the ship named in his honor on behalf of the MS State Conference NAACP. PHOTO BY JAY JOHNSON