According to Isaac Newton, an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an outside force. An outside force in modern life may be community engagement and service – in Flint, this force has taken the form of the genuine smile of Carma Lewis.
As one of the most recognizable faces in Flint, Lewis is in her second year as president of Flint Neighborhoods United (FNU), a coalition of neighborhood associations. She also works with the United Way as Community Outreach Coordinator for the Flint Action Coordination Team (FACT) taskforce.
Since the end of the industrial era, Flint has been in a state of economic depression – which worsened when the water crisis began in 2014. As the depression continued, many in the city came together and bonded in resilience. Yet, others left – and with the decline in population, vacant and unkempt properties followed. Lewis hates weeds and tall grass, so she began mowing. After she began this project, other community members joined her mowing the empty lots too.
“Carma is an integral part of this community,” FNU secretary Corey Archambault said with excitement. “Making sure we have the residents first really came about under Carma’s leadership.”
Through all the smiles and laughter now, growing up in Flint didn’t provide Lewis a typical life. “I basically had two sets of parents,” Lewis recalled. Growing up in both households had a profound effect on her character and life. “I lived with my mom and step-dad, but I would visit and hang out with my dad and step-mom too,” Lewis chuckled as she held on to her peace sign laden purse.
While able to enjoy the little things in life because of her father’s sense of whimsy and “goofiness,” Lewis grew up tough. Soulful yet driven, she fought for her beliefs and seldom backed down.
Growing up with both parents working at the General Motors’ factory, Lewis always knew she would go to college for a different life. After taking some time off, she ultimately graduated from the Detroit College of Business with a degree in business administration. In 2013, Lewis moved south to be closer to her father. While looking for work in Arkansas and Texas, Lewis received a distraught call from her sister about the water crisis in Flint.
Lewis quickly returned to Michigan in 2014 and immediately volunteered to give out water in her community. “If I would do it for my family, I want to do it for other families,” she reasoned. Shortly after saying this, Lewis offered a homeless man a bottle of water, which had been rolling around the back of her Jeep.
Later that fall, Lewis was stricken by the news that her father passed away. Just a few weeks later, while still distraught from her loss, Lewis became unemployed. Feeling adrift with her newfound time and unsettled emotions, she threw all her energy into the community.
With the memory of her father in mind, Lewis began offering volunteers of the water crisis advice on community thoughts and initiatives. After she chatted with them, Lewis immediately saw a change in action and an increase in empathy and understanding among the volunteers. “I saw attitudes change and [the volunteers] started helping more,” Lewis said with a smile. “Once I told them why they were here, they even started taking water out to the cars [for the residents].”
It didn’t take long for the United Way to offer Lewis her current position, which includes organizing volunteer and community groups and events. While holding this position, Lewis gets on Facebook live almost daily to advertise the events throughout town.
“God led me to this. It’s addictive,” she said with a pause. “But that’s my favorite thing in life: experiences.” And Lewis wants everyone to experience the best life they can.
Since the first day she volunteered, Lewis has never looked back, and can only proudly smile over the progress Flint has seen.