Rust Wire was able to sit down last week with the very busy Rhoda Matthews, executive director of Flint Club, a Flint, Michigan-based group working to improve the city and reaching out to the large group of Flint natives who no longer call the Vehicle City home.
When we spoke to her, Matthews was in the midst of preparing for several club events: the Made in Flint Awards Reception (Flint: Live It, Love It), and a film symposium featuring actors, producers, and others in the industry who grew up in Flint. The club has a number of activities – among them DRIVE, a young professionals network organization, a scholarship program, and a pen pal program to connect Flint youth with Flint natives who live far away but want to make a positive impact on their city.
“We realize everybody’s not going to move back, but you can still give back,” Matthews said.
An interesting historical note: Flint Club’s offices are in the city’s Durant-Dort office building, which housed the carriage company which would one day become General Motors. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Club was founded in Washington, D.C. by several Flint ex-pats. Click here for more information on the group’s history. Many cities have young professionals organizations, or community-service, or community improvement focused groups. But Flint Club is fairly unique. Because of the city’s loss of auto industry jobs and brain drain, “We have a large constituency that is not local anymore,” explained Matthews.
While there are cities and states that do campaigns or events to try to bring back folks who have left, such as Project Boomerang in Oklahoma, or Buffalo Homecoming in Buffalo, NY., Matthews knows of no other group like Flint Club, that consistently engages both residents and the diaspora who have left.
Below is a condensed and edited version of what we talked about:
RW: What are some of the challenges Flint faces?
RM: “Well, living in the past. [General Motors] was very good to Flint for a long time. There’s people who have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that GM isn’t coming back. There’s a lack of cooperation between entities…We need more people with college degrees, we also have some serious race issues.”
RW: “You and I met at Great Lakes Urban Exchange 2009 conference in Milwaukee. How has GLUE been able to help you and your organization?”
RM: “It’s cool to know that other people are fighting the good fight and it’s encouraging.”
RW: “What’s right about Flint?”
RM: “The sense of pride that people from here have.”