April 2018 - Photos of the Month

On Friday, April 6, the state ended their free bottled water service to the City of Flint due to results of Flint’s water quality testing below action levels of the federal Lead and Copper Rule. The remaining four water distribution centers known as PODS will operate until current supply of state-funded bottles run out. 

When this news hit the city and its residents it felt apocalyptic, especially because many of Flint’s residents still rely heavily on bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing. 

Cars idled in long lines down several blocks near the remaining POD sites in hopes to receive the remaining cases of bottled water. 

Crews worked endlessly loading cases into the backs of cars. Eight cases per car. 

It was a madhouse. This is the first time I’ve been involved in Flint’s water crisis that wasn’t in a courtroom. It’s the first time I really got to speak with residents about how the crisis continues to affect them four years later. 

Here’s are more of my favorite photos from the month.

City outreach development liaison Aonie Gilcreast listens as Flint Mayor Karen Weaver discusses her meeting with Gov. Rick Snyder about his decision to discontinue the distribution of bottled water during a press conference at Flint City Hall on Monday, April 16, 2018 in Flint. The meeting with Snyder took place Monday morning leaving Weaver frustrated with his refusal to reopen the water distribution sites until all the lead and galvanized water service lines are replaced. “When we talked about the PODS the governor said that we need to get over it,” Weaver said. “This is a moral issue, this is an ethical issue, and the people deserve to be comfortable and have that kind of peace of mind and continue with bottled and filtered while we get through this process.” She adds if she has to take the state to court that’s what she will do. “We will sue them.” Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

March 2018- Photos of the Month

The biggest story I tackled in this month was about an apartment complex that had been condemned and abandoned by its owners and property management in Flint. Several residents went without heat, electricity or water for weeks at a time. Trash could be seen piled up next to the complex. It had stopped being collected by the city since summer of last year. For most of the month I visited the complex with Flint Journal reporter and best friend Zahra Ahmad. Our goal was to get to know the remaining residents and document the conditions in which they lived. 

From there we met a family, The Hendersons, who still lived there. They decided to leave when violence, burglary and drug use began to take over the complex. They moved into the Shelter of Flint until they could find an affordable home in a safe area, something hard to come by in Flint. This is an unfortunate story of something that is common and continues to happen in Flint that leaves many individuals and families homeless. Read full story here.

Amanda Henderson, 29, and her husband Danni, 56, sit in their room at the Shelter of Flint on Monday, March 19, 2018, in Flint. The Henderson’s became displaced from their home when the Mary Ann Apartments, located on West Court Street, were condemned on Feb. 26. They had lived there since June 2017 and on several occasions went without heat, water and electricity. She realized quickly there was a lack in management. Henderson has a two-year-old son named Nathanael Broughton. “I couldn’t take him outside without seeing hypodermic needles,” she said. “They put us in that apartment with terrible conditions knowing I had a two-year-old son. I almost had my son taken from me because the water was shut off for so long.” The family moved to the shelter in the beginning of March. They have struggled to find a place to live and are on a four-month waiting list with Section 8 Housing. “I never thought being homeless would happen to me,” Henderson said. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Amanda Henderson tucks her son Nathanael Broughton into bed in their room at Shelter of Flint on Monday, March 19, 2018, in Flint. The family lives in a room with two bunk beds that Amanda and her husband rotate each night to sleep alongside Nathanael. The belongings on the storage rack are what they managed to bring when they left Mary Ann Apartment complex. It’s all they have until they can afford to buy new clothes, furniture and other objects to replace the ones destroyed when their apartment was broken into. This is the first time Henderson has been homeless. Her father called her crying because he didn’t have room for her at his home. “There’s just no room for us at his place or my step mom’s place,” Henderson said. “There’s no room for us anywhere.” Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Here are some other favorites from March!

February 2018-Photos of the Month

Second day into February started with a breaking news story I had never covered before. My coworker Zahra and I went to a triple homicide early Saturday morning. It had to be the coldest night of that month. It was about one in the morning. It was so quiet in the neighborhood. I took as many photos as I could. I took photos of officers and detectives working the scene as well as areas where light caught my eye. We decided to wait it out until one of the officers could confirm what had happened. We knew it wasn’t going to be a good outcome regardless. 

Then the family showed up. And I’m not talking about a few individuals, there were cars full of people wanting answers. We all waited for several hours. It wasn’t until a man and woman crossed police tape toward the house that everyone got out of their cars too. So did we. 

The neighborhood wasn’t quiet anymore. 

What took place shortly after I will never forget. It was an eye-opening moment for me as a photojournalist. To get to the point, I froze. 

I froze when the detective told the family that three of their loved ones had been shot dead. Immediately a group of women dropped to the ground screaming. One woman threw a trash can near my direction as I fumbled to take the shot. It was chaos. I didn’t know what to do or when to cross the line. Part of me didn’t want to photograph their pain. The other part of me needed to do my job. I was torn. It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do here so far. 

Once Zahra and I got the information we needed we went to a 24-hour diner. We were quiet for the majority of the time. I ordered blueberry pancakes and bacon. She ordered a cheeseburger. 

It was a long night. 

We had to cover polar plunge in a few hours. Welcome to the life of journalists. 

I don’t think covering breaking news where the victim’s family is involved will ever get easier. I think it’s important to remember to go with your gut and to always move and photograph in a way that shows respect and empathy while getting the images you need to do your job. Depending on the situation, I don’t think it’s ever worth getting the shot at the expense of re-traumatizing a person in the worst moment in their life. Obviously I have a lot to learn yet on this topic. 

Here are my favorite photos from the month. 

This month I really pushed myself to improve my portraiture, something I really enjoy and have made it a point to get better at while I’m here in Flint. One assignment in particular set it off for me as a turning point in how I look for light and work my subject to make the best portrait possible. Corrections officer Elwanda Ray was the perfect person to help boost my confidence during the portrait session. She was so patient and just all around a wonderful person to get to know while I was photographing her. 

Corrections officer Elwanda Ray, 46, of Flint stands for portrait at Thumb Correctional Facility on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Lapeer. Ray has been named the 2018 Corrections Officer of the Year. She spends her work days interacting with the inmates encouraging them to be better men. “I motivate them to be better,” Ray said. “Flowers do grow in a dark place.” Instead of playing cards or watching tv, Ray encourages the men to read and better their education while in prison. She also makes a point to remember birthdays. Bringing positivity to the men is what she believes helps them when they get out. “I’m the real sunshine,” Ray said. “At the end of my life I want to be remembered as someone who made a difference.” Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Corrections officer Elwanda Ray smiles for a portrait at Thumb Correctional Facility on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Lapeer. Before becoming involved in corrections, Ray wanted to be a singer, then an x-ray technician which turned into an interest for social work and finally criminal justice to be a correction officer. “I love my job,” Ray said. When she isn’t working, Ray volunteers in the community. She is active with the youth as well as in nursing homes. “I take elderly people in the neighborhood on field trips to the movies or shopping,” Ray said. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Corrections officer Elwanda Ray smiles as she reflects on how her and her husband met in the 90s while at Thumb Correctional Facility on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Lapeer. Ray is a mother of two, god mother to seven and has a grandson. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

Corrections officer Elwanda Ray stands for a portrait at Thumb Correctional Facility on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Lapeer. Bronte Wittpenn | MLive.com

And then the flooding happened. The first image is so far my favorite photo I have made thus far at the Flint Journal. 

And now the rest of the month. 

Cardine Humes, 48, sits in front of the mural he painted on a building located on the streets of Dupont and West Dayton on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2018 in Flint. Humes is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, but moved to Flint when his father was diagnosed with cancer. He has been living in the city for six months and working on the mural for three months, weather permitting. Painting and drawing has always been a part of his life. “I was punished as a child in school,” Homes said. A teacher once caught him smoking cigarettes. “Before he would tell my mom he would give me an ultimatum.” The teacher would have him stay after class and draw. He would write sentences on the board and have Humes draw the words. “He knew I had some kind of talent,” Humes said. That talent didn’t stop even when he went blind in one eye from a sling shot accident when he was a boy. The mural was commissioned by the Urban Renaissance Center. It is focused on the restoration of neighborhoods of Flint. “It’s time to come together,” Humes said. “It’s time to restore.”

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