On Tuesday, October 30, Friends' Central hosted pediatrician, professor, and noted public health advocate Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose research exposed the Flint water crisis. Dr. Hanna-Attisha, Friends' Central's inaugural Distinguished Justice Leader, is the author of What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City. In her visit to Friends' Central, Dr. Mona, as she is called, met with groups of Lower, Middle, and Upper School students during the day and spoke to a sold-out crowd of Friends' Central families and the greater community members in the evening.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha was inspiring in her talks with students and adults of all ages, sharing with the community what led to uncovering the truth and dangers regarding the water in Flint, Michigan, as well as her thoughts on the reasons behind the inequity and what students can do to speak out against these injustices. Hanna-Attisha explained, "Flint is a great example of a world-wide problem in our country – how people in poorer communities don't have the same access to basic amenities like clean water as others. What I want you to go away with is the importance of speaking up. You are all powerful people, no matter how old you are." She also spoke about the importance of a team and working together. Dr. Hanna-Attisha explained, "It took a team of folks different from each other who came together to create change. I can't stress the importance of a team and working together. There are issues you can fix in your area, and you can begin doing the work, together, now."
Dr. Hanna-Attisha first met with Lower School students in grades 4 and 5, who are in the midst of their fall project – the world of water – and have been studying water safety and access. Lower School Principal Kelly Bird shared, "Fifth graders connected Dr. Mona's work to their work in the Light Lab and Project Oasis, looking at Dr. Hanna-Attisha's process and considering the importance of not only identifying problems but also searching for solutions through scientific inquiry. Just as 'Dr. Mona' worked toward a just solution to the Flint water crisis, our students are engaged in the process of identifying renewable energy resources for their imagined societies. They also connected to the idea that each of us has rights protected by the government – one being the right to clean water. Today was unforgettable and transformative for all of us who had the chance to hear Dr. Mona. She made the lessons of inclusivity, being an upstander not a bystander, and working collaboratively come alive and feel real. I have no doubt that many if not all of our students will follow in Dr. Mona's footsteps in their own way."
In her talks with Middle and Upper School students, Dr. Hanna-Attisha spoke about the importance of environmental and social justice, all through the lens of the events in Flint. Alexa Quinn, Middle School Principal, said, "Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha's visit, as our inaugural Distinguished Visiting Justice Leader, was inspiring and uplifting at just the right time and in all the right ways. Middle School students were completely enthralled not only by Dr. Mona's story but also with her intellect, warmth, the way she tied issues together, and with her message of hope. She encouraged students to speak up for what is right, even when it is hard, and to see themselves as being responsible for and connected to the well-being of other people -- whether locally or globally. We were truly privileged to learn from her example of how to 'let our lives speak.'"
In the Upper School, Dr. Hanna-Attisha met with smaller groups of students, the full Upper School student body, and the Friends' Central Justice Core Team, a group of students passionate about issues of social and environmental justice, who prepared in advance for Dr. Hanna-Attisha's visit. Upper School Principal Beth Johnson and Assistant Principal Bill Kennedy shared, "In addition to remarking on the 'brilliance' of our students, which they appreciated, Dr. Mona gave a rousing talk about the ways in which ordinary people, working together and guided by science, could (and did!) change their community for the better. She also spoke movingly about working through fear in order to serve a higher purpose and living out the 'American dream,' having come to the United States at the age of four. It was a most inspiring afternoon."