The Final Word: Flint’s people, spirit reminder of why we must pay attention

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (left), Bishop Todd Ousley (Diocese of Eastern Michigan) and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver discuss the city’s water crisis.

I have never received such attentive service in a restaurant. And it made me profoundly sad.

“It’s been pretty quiet,” said Robert, working as my server. “But I’ve learned a lot about everyone who’s been here. I just had a doctor from Grand Blanc, he was a very nice guy. We’ve had some really good customers in here today.”


Robert was able to learn plenty about every customer that day. He had the time to make each customer feel like they were right at home. Actually, we were right in his home, to be honest.

Robert’s home is Flint, Michigan. Yeah, that Flint, Michigan.

Quick, I say ‘Flint’ and you say….water?

Admit it, that is what makes Flint famous these days. Right or wrong, it’s the sort of notoriety that will make anyone think twice about coming to a town built by the automobile industry, then decimated by it. Then, for good measure, took a kick square in the teeth with its water nightmare. And most certainly, that sort of notoriety will keep an excellent Mexican restaurant, located in the heart of downtown Flint, empty on a perfect Saturday afternoon.

Four o’clock. And I’m the only customer.

Robert saw I was eating alone. He kept my glass full and made sure I had everything I needed. But he also made sure I wasn’t lonely. He knew I was in Flint to be part of the House of Bishops discussion on the Flint Water Crisis. I learned he was indeed familiar with the Episcopal Church. We continued to learn how much we have in common. How I had just lost my wife to cancer a month earlier, and how his girlfriend has battled cancer.

“You have such a positive attitude,” Robert said. But as he told me his full story — his, too, is a life full of twists and turns — I couldn’t help but be far more impressed by his attitude. In a world full of people who feel entitled to “mail it in” because it’s just not a good day and, who cares, no one is here anyway, Robert not only gave a 100-percent effort, but did so with a smile on his face.

And maybe that’s one lesson we can take away from Flint. Don’t forget Flint and its good people. Many of the factories and the jobs associated with it are now gone, but the town’s blue-collar, never-say-die attitude is something to ponder. What happened to Flint is wrong. Time cannot erase how wrong it was. Only effort can fix it.

Our effort affects people like Robert, who will only be too happy to tell you how much he appreciates it.

Rick Schulte is editor for The Record and also director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. He can be reached at