Jan Worth-Nelson, a former editor of the East Village Magazine, shares stories about the colorful history of the iconic Flint publication. Jan came to Flint from Los Angeles, California. She comments on what she thinks about Flint and her life in the Vehicle City. Importantly she describes life in a city trying to find its future after the mass exit by General Motors Corporation.
Jan Worth-Nelson, a former editor of the East Village Magazine, shares stories about the colorful history of the iconic Flint publication. The East Village Magazine started about the same time as Michael Moore's Flint Voice back in the 1970s.
Today, the magazine has become a brilliant piece of journalism each month, covering hyper-local government meetings and thoughtful essays from some of Genesee County's best writers.
Jan Worth-Nelson is a retired University of Michigan-Flint English Professor whose experience in Flint has made her the most influential person on the local scene most political leaders have never heard of. She quietly assembled a talented group of writers and reporters at the East Village Magazine, making it a publication of record for the Flint area. She shares her joy about living in Flint, frustrations, disappointments, and what is possible for the region's future.
Radio Free Flint is now making transcripts available for newly released episodes to serve the hearing impaired better.
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Transcript of Podcast Interview with Jan Worth-Nelson
This transcript is generated using speech recognition software and human transcribers. and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before using as a reference or source.
00:00:00 Arthur Busch
Hello, you're listening to Radio Free Flint. This is Arthur Bush. Thanks for joining us. Our guest today is Jan Worth-Nelson, Consulting editor and a writer for the East Village magazine.
I have been waiting to talk to you for some time. The pandemic knocked us off kilter, but you're here now, so I want to ask you what is East Village magazine and how did it start?
What did you do for East Village magazine?
00:00:35 Jan Worth-Nelson
OK, East Village magazine was started in July of 1976 by Gary Custer, who is a vintage Flint character. We still have an office on 2nd St, a little office, and Gary's brother, Ed Custer, owns a number of houses in the East Village area. So anyway, Gary ran the magazine single-handedly for many years, and many of the people who worked for him had never met each other. He was a little bit of a Loner, especially in his later years. He was initially devoted to neighborhood improvement issues and neighborhood preservation issues.
I think that was Gary. He was a journalism graduate from the University of Missouri. He was very well trained and used photojournalists by training.
So that's why the magazine has this sort of black-and-white aesthetic that he started; he loved that. So, we're known for our black and white covers. Ed Custer has been doing these beautiful black and white covers for all these years. He still is we come out monthly.
It's a nonprofit operation, and most of the people who write for it are essentially 1099 (contractors). Gary ran it on a shoestring. I don't think he ever got any money for it, but I did want to tell you a quick story and just out of devotion.
Gary was fascinated by his city. He had a strong sense of place. He lived in an apartment on Avon St that he had from his brother in the house that his brother owns and towards the end of his life. As I said, he died on January 15th of, 2000. He kept a little bed in that office on 2nd St. he had a sign up for a while on his door that said hours open, like 11:00 PM. to 5:00 AM. Like everyone wanted. People, he did it all sort of monthly.
00:02:28 Arthur Busch
He started about the same time Michael Moore was getting on the run with his publications.
00:02:34 Jan Worth-Nelson
Right, Gary didn't see himself in competition with anybody else. He thought what he did was what he did; he wasn't an investigative journalist. He wasn't a gotcha journalist. He just liked to cover just neighborhood things. At the time, he looked at it as if he was covering things that nobody else was covering. He liked codes covering zoning board meetings because he thought things happened there that were as important as what was happening in City Council.
Regarding neighborhoods, you know. So that's always been our focus. Initially, Gary Custer got a small grant. I think it was less than $3000 from the Mott Foundation. Bill White was kind of fascinated by Gary.
Gary had this long beard, and he had a bike. He didn't drive a car or anything. He'd go back and forth between his apartment and crank out this little eight-page black and white thing once a month. So, he got a little bit of seed money in 1978 or something like that from the Mott Foundation. He never got any more money again.
Then in 2014, I think it was he who finally decided he would apply again, and he applied. Supposedly, Bill White said at the time; this was the best investment we ever made. We gave this guy three grand, whatever it was, and he never (came back for more), and kept him going. You know for all the for 40 years.
Afterward, and Bill White liked Gary Guster, they finally gave him some money. At the end of 2014, he found out that he got. I think it was like $30,000 and amazing like he had never seen that kind of money. Sadly, he got sick at the end of December 2014 and died, just having signed the paperwork to get this money. A number of us who had been writing for him. You know nobody ever was paid or anything.
I've been writing a column since 2007 on the back page of it. We went down to the Mott Foundation and went up to the 12th floor and said OK, so he got this money. There are a few of us that think we could keep it going. What do you think? Can we keep the money? They said, yeah.
That was a change in 2015. It was quite a change at East Village magazine. We began to be able to pay our writers a little bit. Nobody is on salary at all, and nobody has ever been on a salary. We can we're paying stipends now. We expanded our coverage.
We've gone from 8 to 12 sixteen to 20 pages, and we started covering City Hall and the Flint Community School Board quite avidly. That's Harold Ford, our education beat reporter. He's excellent.
I was retired from U of M Flint. In the English department by then in.
Gary used to have these little three or four-paragraph stories, and I wanted to be more expansive. We have started writing longer pieces. In some ways, it was a little bit more literary than Gary would have had this stomach for; like Gary, it was about subject, verb object.
That was it. That's all he wanted. You know, who, where, when, what, why, how, and then? That's the end. And I loved him, and his family thought that that would probably be the end of East Village Magazine when he died.
But we kind of wanted to keep it going. We thought it was worth keeping going and we kind of wanted to carry on Gary's legacy. I was fascinated by him. I have a bachelor's degree in journalism myself. But I had, and I had been a newspaper reporter in Southern California for five years when I was a kid. And I'd been involved with writing all my life.
So, I just I was fascinated by Gary. The fact that he was so devoted to what he considered to be top-level journalism. You know he never got rich on it. He no, he barely had enough to live on. But it was just his passion, and he didn't tolerate any BS.
I've told this story many times.
00:06:23 Arthur Busch
I don't think he like politicians either.
00:06:25 Jan Worth-Nelson
No, he didn't. He didn't.
Indeed, I've told this story that every month when I would take my column over, I would take it to him in person. In that office, he kept. He knew that I liked Bushmills, and he kept a bottle of Bushmills in the back for me.
So when I would go to take him my column and edit it, edit the proofs and everything with him, he'd pull out this bottle of Bushmills from the back, and he'd pour me….he did this little chipped mug that he had he put my Bushmills in, and we would sit there and talk about Flint.
It was just wonderful.
You know, I'm not a Flint native I sometimes don't feel a loyalty to Flint that some Flint natives do.
He was a great storyteller, and we would open the door of that office on 2nd St, and you could smell Flint. You know, it's like you could just smell and feel the community that he was so devoted to.
00:07:16 Arthur Busch
Do you think Flint has a collective identity?
00:07:19 Jan Worth-Nelson
You know that I've thought about that a lot because one way that I would answer that is to say there are a lot of writers who have had their roots in Flint who just seemed to be obsessed with it and hooked on it. It's like the experiences that people have are so intense with Flint.
There's a feisty kind of blue-collar ethos, but I hate to go with the cliche on that because I think it's far deeper than that, I don't think it's the typical blue-collar mentality.
There's some kind of feistiness against the system, but also a craving for like, I put it in a recent story that I wrote. It said that there was something about this blue-collar or working class yearning for a certain kind of grace. Fight against them, and through the years, there hasn't been the opportunity to make a lot of money. There's always this boom and bust cycle. The damn town has had so much bad luck through the years.
I do think there is some kind of thing that happens to you in Flint, like sometimes people don't like that they live there. They wish they could have gotten out, but when they get out, they never stop thinking about it like you and never stop writing about it.
00:08:28 Arthur Busch
So, the question I have is…..Is it in the water, or is it in the blood?
00:08:39 Jan Worth-Nelson
Well, I don't know. I think that's a hard question to answer. Obviously, it's a joke now if you say it's in the water.
00:08:40 Arthur Busch
I'm trying to no, and I'm not joking. I'm trying to find the answer to that.
00:08:45 Jan Worth-Nelson
Yeah, I mean, I feel like there's this sense of the world has shat upon this place over and over again, but on the other hand, there's been this hope of glory, and you know, there's been this
incredible involvement in being part of the national structure. You know, they used to make Corvettes at Chevy in the hole back in the day, and they and I made Buick Regals at Buick City in the day. And like all these beautiful cars were going to. There's a sense that we have made this amazing, powerful, beautiful thing.
We also fought against the man and the sit-down strike. You know we were the ones that stood up and stood in the windows of Fisher Body, and you know, worn these rights for the working class. So a sense of honor and pride, sort of a stubborn honor and pride, infiltrates the Flint consciousness.
00:09:40 Arthur Busch
When I was growing up, there wasn't such a thing as a Flintstone, except that part, except on cartoons with Fred and Wilma and Barney. They lived in Bedrock and drove a car they had to peddle with their feet. They went to work every day at the quarry.
00:10:00 Jan Worth-Nelson
At the quarry, yeah.
00:10:01 Arthur Busch
And they pounded rocks all day. The guy was happy when he got out of work. And he rode down the road happy!
So, the Flintstone cartoon show came and went, and in 2000 there were some young kids from Flint who played at Michigan State University. They represented several of the high schools in Flint. You know there are four schools. I think three of them were from different high schools where they all went. They grew up together.
The media said these guys are the Flintstones, and they embrace that. They got tattoos on their arms, with Flint tattoos, Flintstone tattoos.
00:10:38 Speaker 2
00:10:40 Arthur Busch
Tom Izzo said he comes to Flint because he likes the qualities these kids bring to the locker room. So that's my question, that's my question.
00:10:46 Speaker 2
They were feisty
00:10:48 Speaker 2
Yeah, yeah, so you know.
00:10:49 Arthur Busch
They weren't just feisty.
00:10:51 Jan Worth-Nelson
Somewhere in some ways, which stands for that complicated Flint, psychology, or whatever it Is Ben Hamper. I've just interviewed him. I just did a profile of him this summer. You know it's 30 years since Rivethead came out. And he comes back to Flint. So I mean, that book to me is just brilliant Flint literature. I mean the way they're.
00:11:17 Arthur Busch
Still, he's still collecting royalties.
00:11:20 Jan Worth-Nelson
Oh, absolutely, yeah. And Flint, even though that factory culture. He was so much fun to interview. He's like…." Look, don't make any big generalizations about this as I'm one guy I told my one story."
But it's inevitable that when you read Rivethead, you start thinking about larger issues about the Flint psychology and the Flint experience because It's just the wild resistance of people in the shop.
He contends that they were still cranking out good cars, even though that wasn't the reputation at the time. He said that these guys in the shop made a deal; they navigated shop life in the quarry, if you want to look at that way of pounding rocks to make it on their terms, with persistence and resistance.
Those are qualities that I, you know that I, connect with what's fluent. Even now, 30 years later. I mean, he's sitting up there in his house and Sutton's Bay. He says it's the best life he's ever had, and he says in the last line of my profile. He said this is a life of glorious apathy, right? And that's like Ben Hamper.
He loves that, but he's like a prototypical Flint person in the way he experienced growing up there, you know, he grew up in Civic Park and not far from Gray Young and Dan Kildee in that neighborhood.
I've been here since I was 30 years old. I'm now 72, and I've seen this town gets hammered, time after time. The word resilience begins to ring hollow in this city. How much damn resilience can you ask of a community hammered time after time by political corruption, post-industrial decreases, and environmental degradation?
You know the water crisis has taken a chunk out of the heart of this city.
OK, everybody says, yeah, Flintoids are resilient. But it's like, "Man, people are hurting." You know we shouldn't have to be as resilient as we are supposed, as we supposedly are. I think that's an overused comment about the city of Flint.
It's almost like it makes other people feel better about what's happened to our town. It's like. Well, those Flintoids. They are resilient people. They're going to get through it. It's like, some people did not get through it, and they're not getting through it very well.
The schools are a mess. The public schools in Flint are falling apart. A whole generation or two of kids have been denied decent public education. It's not the fault of Flint people exactly. It's the fault of how these systemic things have come. Because again, I would say that the governance structure in Flint has been pretty shaky in the last few years.
00:14:12 Arthur Busch
Well, I was gonna ask you that now you're a journalist. I understand you don't like the trend in the world of politics, and the East Village magazine has been apolitical.
I don't think well; although they've allowed politicians on their board, they do not allow politicians on their board to start letting US politics influence the editorial content.
00:14:26 Jan Worth-Nelson
Right? We don't take editorial positions.
00:14:35 Arthur Busch
That's correct, and the positions you take have nothing to do with politics for the most part, except for why politics isn't working well.
My question to you is simpler, do you trust the government in Flint
00:14:49 Jan Worth-Nelson
Do I trust the government? It's extremely frustrating. I am continually in a state of schizophrenia about this town because, on the one hand, this is a beautiful town in some ways, and I have a really good life here. And I compare it to LA, where my husband and I couldn't have afforded to buy a garage.
We couldn't live well in LA. We live in a beautiful home in the college cultural neighborhood in this city, and every day like, I look out my backyard. I see birds here. I walk through Pierce Park every day. I have many, many friends here. People who have accomplished things and are trying to write about Flint are trying to do their part to be good citizens. There's schizophrenia about as I look around, I go. This is not the Flint that you would read about elsewhere.
The cliche interpretation of Flint there. We are these broken-down people and a broken-down city.
I would want to bring up this young writer named Kelsey Ronan, who I've been talking a lot about. She's got a novel coming out on March 15th. It's called Chevy in the hole from Henry Holt and Co. It's an amazing, gorgeous novel. Based on Flint and about Flint and the city of Flint is a character of a powerful character in her book, and she talks about how she said, yeah, there are crumbling things and their burned-out houses and everything.
But if you widen your lens, you see a nice little neat house next door to the burned-out house with flowers on the front porch. People are feeding their birds, returning their books to the library, continuing to deliver good lives to the city, and continuing to do their part.
I Would say that the people of Flint, indeed, are the greatest asset we have because we're people that have, for whatever reason, we feel we're trapped here.
In the first column I ever wrote for East Village magazine, the first line of it was, I think I never thought I'd stayed this long. And here I am all these years later, and I want to have a good life here. I'm trying to have a good life here. Many people here have a good life and are wrestling around potholes and water crises, inept politicians, crime, and all that stuff. They are still managing to deliver, so I guess you know if you want to call that resilience. I don't.
I think it's stubbornness like we found ourselves in a beleaguered city where we still want to have a good life.
So, there is an opportunity for that to happen here. There's the culture in Flint of activism. They fought OK, so the water crisis. Activism depicts or captures that Flint quality I think you've been getting at. What's interesting about the (Professor) Mark Edwards story is did you know that some activists eventually turned on Mark Edwards because they thought he was being too arrogant and that he wasn't paying attention to their views? And he was.
So, it's like he overstepped his bounds as a leader in that story. And I just I find that typical Flint.
00:17:57 Arthur Busch
He overstepped his bounds to the extent that he didn't have much to do with Flint water other than a bunch of kids, and pretty much, a lot of young kids showed up with these things of water. And so, then you test them.
00:18:10 Jan Worth-Nelson
And well, he started disdaining what he called citizen scientists. He started questioning the citizen scientists, which is, I think, a fascinating part about it. There was a period of time when everybody in Flint was a scientist. Everybody, everybody was testing their water, and they were turning in their results to the state. Mark Edwards somehow kind of turned against that movement, prototypical Flint that, you know, we were going to be our own scientist on this.
Thank you very much, and we were going to do our part. I have great admiration for those water activists. Many of them were African American women who were just out there telling the truth, and they would not be ignored. But Claire McClinton is one of my heroes in this town, she's a union activist, she's just an amazing person and just always telling the truth and getting in people's faces in the right way. Very strategic and smart to Flint doesn't fall easily into a category.
You must look at things more closely and with many nuances to get it. And even then, there would be things that elude you from understanding this place. Let me give you a quick example. Somebody just died of COVID here. It's an interesting case to me. His name was Tony Palladino. He's a white guy who lives over in Kearsley Park. He had worked for the Flint Journal back in the day in the back, in the press room, like he wasn't a reporter.
So, he was like a classic old-school Flint kind of populist. If you want to use that word and he never trusted the government, even before the water crisis, he didn't. He was in a position where he didn't trust the government, so the water crisis came along, bringing out this immense outburst of activism from Tony Palladino.
I interviewed him probably ten times and quoted him in many stories. He's very quotable. Very interesting, guy. So, then the pandemic comes along with his distrust of government. In my opinion, is part of what killed him because of his experience with the government because of the water crisis.
It had made him, so there's nothing he's going to trust about the government, right?
He got COVID. Nobody wants to say that he wasn't vaccinated. So, I can't say on your show that he wasn't vaccinated, but I'm sure in my heart that he wasn't, and it killed him, in my view.
In my interpretation, there's a pro and a con of this kind of activism that's painful to watch, like in what ways can we in Flint navigate our ways through corrupt systems and inequitable systems and the constant pounding?
Why do people underestimate the needs of the people there to me? Simmering anger doesn't take much to re-trigger for Flint residents. So, one wonders why we always have to fight this hard for the common good.
Why does it always happen that in this town, in particular, we've had to fight this hard for the common good? It's just unending.
Some of what I feel about Flint is that I feel exasperation and anger on behalf of my fellow citizens here that they have had to. People who shouldn't even have to fight for what they have to fight.
For time after time after time, they get, you know, they get beat up by some kind of corporate interests or some kind of presumptuous political decision-making that is devastating to the city of this town.
So I feel angry about what's happened to Flint over and over again, and that's one reason why it angers me that people are saying, well, they're resilient. They're going to get through it. Just stop making us have to be resilient. We shouldn't have to be that resilient time after time after time.
You know the analogy; I think of is when I was in social work school, one of my professors said one time, you know we have to support shelters for women that are getting abused. Domestic violence shelters and everything this person said, "No, what we have to do is to stop the domestic abuse to start with, we have to stop the domestic violence we should be working so we don't even need the darn shelters." That's where our attention should lie.
That's kind of how I feel about some of the ways that Flint has been beaten up on through the decades. It's like stop work on what causes those things that make it so hard for Flint residents to get there.
00:22:56 Arthur Busch
How has East Village magazine changed? Because the media, especially local coverage, has dissipated with the one newspaper we had.
00:23:08 Jan Worth-Nelson
Yeah, well, East Village magazine, over the last five or six years, we have expanded our reach as the Flint Journal is falling away. You know MLive has this little, tiny storefront now on Saginaw St. And it's sad to see that.
You have, you need to have people that are witnessing what's going on that are not part of the political structure. In the political superstructure, you need to have people in that Chamber on the third floor of City Hall. They're sitting in the 2nd row, taking a measure of what's happening. And tell the rest of the people that it has to happen. And if that doesn't happen, politicians can slide into unaccountability.
As we've been talking about this, a community of activism. If the community doesn't know what's going on, how can they respond appropriately, right? So it's not our job to be the activist, but our job to be the witness.
You know, in the Constitution, the only profession mentioned in the Constitution other than the legislative, the three branches of government are journalists. In the First Amendment, we have a role, and without playing that role at the local level, the foundation of everything else is neglected and is in danger of being that people are in danger of being abused.
And that's happened. It's happened in this town.
So East Village magazine has tried hard to do what we call the democracy beat, where we've got people keeping an eye on an informed eye on the City Council and on the Flint School Board. And we're not taking a position. We're just saying what happened.
Our leads are this is what happened. This is what actions were taken or not taken. If you don't do that at a local level, no matter how good your activists are, they will be hamstrung. It will be hard for them to sort out the truth of a situation, so they know how to respond or galvanize their troops.
Do you know what I'm saying? There is a ghostliness to Flint, like there are a lot of ghosts Chevy in the hole is a classic example for me now. They prettied it up, and I hate that they've changed the names of Chevy Commons.
I feel like the legacy of the place should reflect some of that rawness. That goes with the name Chevy in the hole.
There are a lot of ghosts here. Of all of these struggles that have occurred through the decades, and.
00:25:30 Arthur Busch
Are you referring to the urban landscape if you look at the places slide?
00:25:33 Jan Worth-Nelson
00:25:37 Arthur Busch
AC Spark Plug or Fisher Body Coldwater Road, Buick City, which is, I believe, the largest brownfield in the United States.
00:25:46 Ja n Worth-Nelson
Buick City is haunted. Yeah, I've been out there a few times. I'm fascinated by Buick city.
You talk about ghostliness when you go in there. You know there's still the concrete foundation.
Some places like the old Delphi site are somewhat the same. You can still see flowering trees. They'll be right out in the middle of Delphi, for instance, planted because it was a courtyard when the factory was still there, and they had done this landscaping right.
So now the factories are all gone, but out there is this little flowering Cherry Tree.
00:26:20 Arthur Busch
A city that just wipes out all of its history, all of the connectedness that people have to places.
Uh, does psychic damage to those who reside in the community. It ******* development and acceptance of the new that's come along, and I am fascinated by what's happened downtown in the last 15 years.
If you ask people about downtown and there are websites and groups, you know there are Facebook groups and so on. Some of the most popular ones for the Flint area have to do with memories. The memories of Kewpies are the memories of the Vogue.
00:27:01 Jan Worth-Nelson
Right, yeah? Right, that's right, yeah.
00:27:08 Arthur Busch
And they have to do with places that no longer are like farmers' market. My question to you is,
in your mind, your opinion. Do you think that Flint has been reckless in the way that it's gone about tearing everything down? Or is that a necessary thing to make a better city?
00:27:28 Jan Worth-Nelson
I think it's been reckless. I don't want to be completely polarized because, you know, there was a time in the 80s when we were calling Bill White Dynamite Bill because he was tearing down everything. I remember sitting in Churchill's I think it was when some of those buildings across the street were being built were being taken apart, and you know.
There was this big wrecking ball, and we were all sitting over there drinking while the wrecking ball was taking down those buildings, and we were cursing Bill White when we were drinking our drinks over there because some of those buildings were so fascinating.
But so again, there has been a recklessness to it. It's a kind of repudiation of the struggles carried out through the decades when you tear all that evidence down.
One thing I wanted to say was I had a therapist.
00:28:17 Arthur Busch
Has it done psychic damage to Flint?
00:28:19 Jan Worth-Nelson
Yes, I think it has somewhat. Look at Central High School in Whittier. Those beautiful buildings there have just been allowed to rot from the bottom up, and they're still standing there and so every time you drive by, you're reminded of the Flint Public Schools wreck. It's a huge property, and it looks awful. And that has been mishandled. That property has been mishandled in a way that I just think is tragic for our psyche, it's it.
You cannot make it into a metaphor for some aspects of our city life here, but the part I didn't, I wanted to make sure that I said that I was going to say that I had this therapist once.
That said, in the face of a loss, you think you assess your situation like what is lost, what's left, and what's possible.
Flint has spent a lot of time mourning what's been lost. But if we start thinking about what's left in this city, one of the things is that because the air is cleaner and the Flint River is remarkably clean, there are advantages to the post-industrial era here.
There's wildlife over at Pierce Park. Somebody just posted it. A photo yesterday, Pierce Park 5 deer, walking through the park and so everybody looking at it and celebrating. There's a fox family over there. That is wonderful.
Sometimes what is left is an opportunity to live in a cleaner, more beautiful place that's healthier for our children.
Now again, the water crisis sort of blew that to smithereens. We're still grappling with OK, and we know what's lost now, what's left, and what's possible.
You know some of the kids. Now, like Kelsey Ronan, who's writing about Flint in her novel. People they've never known anything else, but it destroyed the city, and that's what they know. So, they're thinking about it in different ways. Like she said if you're a genius in Flint.
This is a quote from her from my profile I did on her.
Look at all the empty lots. She started thinking about gardening, and she was talking about one particular person in town or a couple, Aaron Caudell and Franklin Pleasant, who run the local grocer here. They have an urban farm.
My young friend Kelsey, the novelist, it's like this is a different kind of city. This could be a different kind of city. What is possible with what's left here? And some of these young kids are not looking at it completely in the mournful, ghostly way that people like my generation do because they've never known anything else except this pretty destroyed town.
Some young folks here are doing some quite cool things, and they're thinking about it as, of course, we're going to make it better for you. Know because we live here.
00:31:14 Arthur Busch
Your neighborhood has withstood a lot of bad news in Flint. It's still standing, and it appears to be still stable.
00:31:20 Jan Worth-Nelson
00:31:21 Arthur Busch
Uh, I wonder what you think the effects on that neighborhood have been. From all the things that have gone on here in the last while, the de-industrialization which have cost the economy of this area billions of dollars. More recently and more alarmingly, the Flint water crisis.
00:31:44 Jan Worth-Nelson
I don't know what the latest numbers are, but our real estate market in this neighborhood has been quite unceasingly vigorous. In some ways. I'm a big fan of the effects of architecture.
I think architecture affects how we feel as we go through our lives. This may sound hokey, but I feel like these houses over here carry a legacy with them. That has been an ongoing strength to the community. These are good houses. These houses were built by people who knew how to do things well. Some of us are managing to within the shelter of these good, enduring architecture and hang on like we love these places over here.
You know that this neighborhood, a lot of the houses over here back in the day, you had to sign it was part of your deed that you wouldn't sell to African Americans.
I was going to say some things that have happened over the years are improvements. This city has changed as people have moved out as old white people have died off, et cetera, et cetera. This neighborhood is now more diverse.
Certainly, nobody is going to agree to anything like I'm not going to sell to a Black person. I think there has been a movement toward greater equity and diversity that's been facilitated partly by the changing demography of the town. It's a good, healthy thing and has helped us survive here.
00:33:17 Arthur Busch
Why do people want to live in East Village?
00:33:21 Jan Worth-Nelson
It's beautiful too. If you live in a town like Flint to be able to cultivate something beautiful, that you can live in day-to-day to somehow balance off all the rest of the difficulties that we have. I love it's worth it to devote some of what you have to beauty and to sustaining beauty, and I feel a powerful sense of community that I think is a Flint thing.
Flint is a neighborhood town. There are a number of neighborhoods here where there's strong local level solidarity. May I say to use a good old Flint word?
You know, when we lived in LA when I was spending months at a time in LA and never felt connected to my neighbors. I was always so used to my Flint neighborhood, where you know everybody that lives next to you. And you reach out the hand of communitarianism to your neighbors.
In LA, it was cold for me. I never found the heart of it. I know it's there. I know people say that it's there somewhere. But I never found it. When I returned to Flint, as soon as I got to that Flint airport where it goes to the Flint Gate, I would start seeing people I knew right away. I'm like, it's a relief to be back where there's this strong, humane kind of communitarian approach.
00:34:42 Arthur Busch
Well, my question is, can or will Flint make it?
00:34:46 Jan Worth-Nelson
What do you mean by making it?
00:34:48 Arthur Busch
Is it going to be a ghost town? Does it have the tools to come back to be something? And if it does have the tools to be something, what is that something going to be?
00:34:56 Jan Worth-Nelson
Yeah, it's not going to be like it's never going to be like it was. This is not going to be an industrial success story again. I think this town has been the case all through the decades. Well, I mean, this town has sort of been a bellwether of what happens in other places, you know, to the degree that Flint remakes itself.
That will be evidence to other places about what they can have. My ruling is that because the politics of the town is so screwed up, I'm not so sure that the decisions being made are going to be wise and creative ones. I feel like whatever progress happens in this town will have to happen at the small-scale level with all these young kids trying to do things downtown. And of course, as always, with the support of places like the Mott Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, the nonprofits are going to be where the money is coming from because you're right, it isn't coming from anywhere else.
I think we're trying to figure out the answer to your question, Arthur. I mean, I think whatever it is, it's going to be a new kind of combination of non profit and very, very local ground-level efforts.
I might add that the Flint River is one of our assets. It's beautiful, and it's becoming more beautiful. It's not going to save us. But it is an asset that is God-given if you want to put it that way. That has been tremendously abused in the industrial area and now is coming back.
I'm so touched by the restoration of the Flint River, that's a sign of hope. You know they have. eagles down there. You can take a kayak down there and see eagles now and things like that. So, again, I'm talking a lot about environmental issues that I think are ongoing. This is part of what's left here that we need to treat with love, devotion, and commitment. And there are people in this town that are doing that.
00:36:56 Arthur Busch
If somebody wants to get a copy of East Village magazine or to donate to this worthy cause, how do they do that?
00:37:04 Jan Worth-Nelson
Well, they could send it. We always take checks, and there's an East Village magazine address on our website. We do, we're doing a lot on our website right now, so it's East Village. Magazine.org. There's a PayPal link on the home page that we would love. We need money. We need money right now to keep local to keep our democracy beat going. So that's where I would start.
00:37:29 Arthur Busch
Jan, thank you for appearing on Radio Free Flint.