Flint has a bad reputation among people who don’t live here. It’s time to lay misconceived notions about Flint to rest and counteract them with some positive truth, so we spoke with some of Flint’s most affirming leaders. Four optimistic themes emerged: arts/culture, economic revitalization, education and public health. In writing this article, time and space did not allow us to report everything happening in the city, which is another sign that there is a great deal of positive momentum here.

ECONOMIC REVITALIZATION

Phil Hagerman, CEO of Skypoint Ventures, says business owners are attracted to cities with reputations as innovation centers with momentum - and Flint is one of those centers. Skypoint invests in promising companies and gives them space to grow.

“Our big projects have been renovating the Dryden Building and Ferris Wheel and starting the Innovation Center coworking space,” he says. “By the end of 2018, 50 businesses will be housed in the Ferris Wheel. We rent small offices from $299 to $599/month, or flex space for $99, less for students. We have tenants from all over Michigan and some from out of state.”

Hagerman also works with communities on the North End of Flint. “The North End’s rejuvenation tries to bring the neighborhoods back together,” he says. “Community centers will promote education and literacy, art classes and more, for free or low cost. People will take ownership of their neighborhoods, helping lift up where they’re living, and their kids will have a place to go”. Hagerman continutes, “We put up lights for safety and we’re working with the Ruth Mott Foundation to identify needs on the North End.” Jocelyn Hagerman, CEO of the Hagerman Foundation and Phil’s spouse, says her perception of Flint has changed with downtown’s revival. “Traffic and foot traffic downtown have increased, even to the point where it’s hard to park,” she says. “Restaurants are full again. People are surprised at how downtown’s revitalization is changing the narrative of Flint.”

Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s (CFGF) mission is building a strong community by getting people involved in philanthropy. They focus on issues of social justice, diversity and inclusiveness. “This summer we funded six playgrounds, a tennis court and two basketball court builds across the city. The roughly $500,000 investment leveraged hundreds of volunteers and immeasurable goodwill across the city,” president and CEO Isaiah Oliver says.

PUBLIC EDUCATION

As public education across the country sinks into a mire of troubles, Flint is rising above. “Flint’s infrastructure is its strong higher education,” says Dawn Hibbard, communications specialist at Mott Community College (MCC).

MCC is partnering with organizations like Flint Promise. When qualifying students go on to college at MCC, under the name “Mott Scholars,” they have three years’ tuition paid at MCC and then two years’ elsewhere. There are 11 Flint Promise schools in the city limits. Students living in the city limits can also be part of this program if they have a GED.

Gateway to College at MCC helps students who are behind in high school credits. The students take a placement exam and then take MCC classes at their skill level. Some receive their diploma with as many as 40 credits toward college.

In one of the city’s most exciting educational developments, MCC’s new Culinary Arts Institute is currently under construction downtown and will open in January. “We are expanding the old Woolworth’s at Second Street and Saginaw Street for 200 students and a bigger curriculum,” Hibbard says. “The restaurant on MCC’s campus is also moving. Multiple kitchens for different specialties, a meat fabrication lab and more will be part of the institute.”

Mott Community College itself has long played a role in the future success of area students. “A community college is a stabilizing force socially and economically,” Hibbard says. “We offer occupational and transfer degrees and tweak the curriculum to fit the job market to train students for what their industries need. We have advisory boards in different industries. Our students in the professional trades are required to have internships so they have work experience upon graduation.” “Kettering University is another jewel in the crown of Flint,” Hibbard says. “President Bob McMahon is a visionary, building on the legacy of those who came before him.”

Kettering took ownership of Atwood Stadium, which had fallen into disrepair and is now in use. As the result of a long-term vision of many people, a parkway through the old Chevy in the Hole, now a state park, connects Kettering to the bike path that goes east to downtown and west to Flint Township.

In terms of early education, CFGF is one of the organizations at the forefront. “We opened the doors to a $16 million demonstration school modeled on providing the best quality early childhood education in the country,” Oliver says. “As part of the Educare learning network, Educare Flint now provides exceptional service for 218 preschoolers.”

As the nation’s literacy level declines, CFGF is a leader in reading education. “We put a stake in the ground on the issue of literacy and supported the development of the Flint & Genesee Literacy Network, nationally recognized for its community planning process and two-generation literacy programs in Flint,” Oliver says.

ARTS & CULTURE

“I could go to an event every night. There’s always something happening in Flint,” says Shannon Easter White, founding principal architect of FUNchitechture. She excitedly describes the changes being made to the Flint Cultural Center. In August, a millage passed to fund the center and give residents free or discounted admission.

“One of the best developments in the city is the building of the Flint Cultural Center STEAM Academy, a charter school for grades K-8,” White says. “A $35 million grant will fund the academy where students can cross the street to to take a 90-minute class at any institution.” The Flint Institute of Arts, Sloan*Longway, the Flint Public Library, the Whiting and the Flint Institute of Music will all offer classes

PUBLIC HEALTH

“Our food systems work has convened key stakeholders resulting in the opening of the Flint Fresh Food Hub, a food aggregation space for local farmers,” Oliver says. “And we’ve led fundraising efforts for the Flint water crisis through the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, raising $19 million since 2016, and supporting local nonprofits through $5 million in grant making to work on lead remediation solutions for Flint children and families.”

The Flint Farmers’ Market

The Flint Farmers’ Market is in a category by itself because it has amenities no other farmers’ market has,” White says. “They’ve partnered with Hurley Pediatrics as the only farmers’ market with a children’s clinic inside. It’s across from the bus stop so parents without transportation can bring their kids. There’s access to fresh produce, so important to the growing brains of children, especially those exposed to lead." The market also contains a kindergarten roundup, black tie fundraisers, baby and wedding showers and Flint Food Works.

Flint River Restoration

In conjunction with the Mott Foundation and Genesee County Parks and Recreation, Skypoint is involved in restoring our river and its good name. “There’s a misconception of the Flint River as contaminated,” Jocelyn Hagerman says. “I recently kayaked down the river and even though the project isn’t in full swing yet, it’s beautiful, with very little debris, a lot of fish and many birds. The kayak trip was so eye-opening because people are unaware.” These interwoven issues comprise Flint’s greatest concerns and are where the most growth is happening. As Hibbard says, “A lot of unseen puzzle pieces make up the renaissance of Flint.”