The Intersection of Celebrity Status and Basic Rights: JUST WATER

Freshman%2C+Camille+de+Carbonnel+shpws+off+some+of+her+friendship+bracelets.+%28Courtesy+of+Facebook%29
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The Intersection of Celebrity Status and Basic Rights: JUST WATER

Freshman, Camille de Carbonnel shpws off some of her friendship bracelets. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Freshman, Camille de Carbonnel shpws off some of her friendship bracelets. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Freshman, Camille de Carbonnel shpws off some of her friendship bracelets. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Freshman, Camille de Carbonnel shpws off some of her friendship bracelets. (Courtesy of Facebook)


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By Kathryn Schulte

On March 1, 2019, Jaden Smith’s water foundation, JUST WATER, announced a partnership with First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, Mich.that would help end the ongoing water crisis. Together, the organizations set up a water filtration system, called “The Water Box,” to remove harmful contaminants, especially lead. It debuted on March 7, 2019, with volunteers at the church filling up five-gallon jugs for residents.

The water crisis began in 2014 when the city announced a new pipeline to bring water from the Detroit River to Flint. As a result of economic reasons, the city turned to the Flint River as its main resource. Residents noticed that the water tasted and looked different. After further complaints, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested the river in 2015 and found dangerous levels of lead and bacteria in the residents’ water.

Months after resistance from local and state authorities, the city finally declared a state of emergency. In Jan. 2016, the Michigan National Guard was ordered to distribute bottled water to affected residents. By 2018, several court cases were filed against city officials, and a few were charged with felonies, as they were accused of knowing the risk they imposed on the residents.

Among the legal troubles, people were still suffering from the lack of clean, accessible water. Despite this, the free bottled water program in Flint ended on Apr. 6, 2018, because the government claimed the quality was restored.

Residents, however, remain skeptical, especially in light of the previous neglect from the government. Without the aforementioned program, clean water would have become less accessible. Clean water is available in an underground aquifer just two hours away in Evart, Michigan, but Nestlé has a plant there. The company pays $200 a year to pump out 150 gallons per minute, while some Michigan residents pay $200 a month for water utilities they do not and cannot use.

This makes outside organizations such as the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church and JUST WATER necessary for the health and well-being of the residents. JUST WATER was born out of Smith’s love for the environment. The company is eco-friendly and was co-founded by the young rapper and his father, Will Smith.

Will Smith spoke to The Associated Press about the launch of the company in 2018. He said, “This was a company born out of a child’s love for the ocean … we did not want this to be a celebrity brand.” Jaden wishes to spread his passion for the environment through his company. Among JUST WATER’s other initiatives is manufacturing furniture with used plastic water bottles. Jaden also speaks at schools to help raise awareness for climate change.

In such cases as this crisis, the celebrity status that the Smiths wanted to distance themselves from is helpful in promoting awareness of such causes. Environmental problems directly affect people’s daily lives, but without attention from the government, the Flint crisis can easily be lost in the 24-hour news cycle. Celebrity status for Flint is vital to the welfare of those living there.

Ari Shapiro from NPR interviewed one of Flint’s residents, Jeneyah McDonald. They spoke about how the town is predominantly black, which fueled the neglect from the predominantly white government. “On one level, this story in Flint is about water. But on another level, it’s about trust in government, feeling like your voice matters and that elected leaders care about you,” Shapiro said.

Celebrities, like the government, build up public trust. In demonstrating his concern through both words and actions, Jaden has done this. Trust creates a following, allowing Jaden to reach people around the world that may also want to donate time and resources to the causes he supports.

Celebrity status is what makes his announcement to help Flint a headline; the local church he collaborated with, which has donated 5 million water bottles already, was not famous enough to draw attention on its own.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Access to water is a human right. Unfortunately, celebrities’ influence is needed as a reminder of this basic necessity.