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‘What the Eyes Don’t See’ featured book in Great Michigan Read program

Flint Water Crisis film showing at library tonight

Residents throughout Michigan are invited to join in reading and discussing “What the Eyes Don’t See,” Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s riveting account of her discovery that Flint’s children were being poisoned by lead leaching into the city’s drinking water. The book is Michigan Humanities’ choice for the 2019-2020 Great Michigan Read, and was unveiled in April at the Flint Public Library.

The Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library will be participating in this year’s Great Michigan Read through a series of related programs and book discussions. Multiple copies of the book are available for library cardholders to borrow and book club sets with reader’s guides will also be made available.

The first program is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight — a screening of the documentary “Something in the Water: The Flint Water Crisis.”

Additional programs focusing on environmental concerns and social activism are in the process of being scheduled. Assistant Library Director Jessica Luther shared that she hopes to be able to soon announce a date for an event in Alpena with Dr. Hanna-Attisha.

“Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s willingness to fight for children and tirelessly advocate for change in and beyond Michigan will have readers cheering as she follows the science and her young patients’ experiences to uncover one of the state’s worst public health catastrophes,” said Shelly Hendrick Kasprzycki, Michigan Humanities president and CEO. “We believe it’s important for Michigan citizens to read, discuss and learn from what she has so skillfully written, and we’re anticipating an engaging, timely Great Michigan Read program that addresses water quality and access, environmental injustice, and intersection of the humanities and science. It’s Michigan Humanities’ hope that this book will increase opportunities for civil discourse in our state.”

The Great Michigan Read aims to connect Michigan residents by deepening readers’ understanding of our state, our society, and our humanity. A statewide panel of teachers, librarians, community leaders and book lovers selects the Great Michigan Read every two years. The 2017-18 book was “X: A Novel,” a fictionalized account of the early life and Michigan roots of civil rights leader Malcolm X.

The 2019-20 Great Michigan Read is supported by The National Endowment for the Humanities, Meijer Foundation, and Martin Waymire.

Hanna-Attisha is the founder and director of the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, an innovative and model public health program in Flint.

Currently an associate professor of pediatrics and human development at the MSU College of Human Medicine, she has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World for her role in uncovering the Flint water crisis and leading recovery efforts. She was one of the first to question if lead was leaching from the city’s water pipes after an emergency manager switched the city’s water supply to the Flint River in 2014. She also is committed to increasing literacy in Flint and elsewhere.

“I’m so honored Michigan Humanities chose ‘What the Eyes Don’t See’ for the 2019-2020 Great Michigan Read,” the Flint pediatrician said. “There is so much Michigan love in this story — from my first days in the state as a Yooper, to growing up in Metro Detroit, to my education and training in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Detroit, and most important, my work with kids in Flint.

“From the resistance of the Flint sit-down strikers to the reign of demagogue Charles Coughlin, Michigan’s DNA is full of history — some good and some bad and some shared and some hidden — which we must understand in order to address our present-day challenges,” Hanna-Attisha said in explaining how the concepts of place and history are critically important to her book. “Like so many Michiganders, my story is an immigrant story. It was critical to share this part of the story in this memoir because it informs how I see the world and the work that I am privileged to do.”

Jamie Gaskin, president and CEO of the United Way of Genesee County, encouraged readers throughout Michigan to read the book. Noting he observed first-hand the effects the Flint water crisis had on the city and its residents, Gaskin said it was important that people discuss “What the Eyes Don’t See” through programming sponsored through the Great Michigan Read. The Rev. Dr. Shannon Polk, a Michigan Humanities board member and attorney, echoed the importance of conversation around the book.

The Great Michigan Read kicked off in September 2019 and runs through fall 2020. In addition to free books, Great Michigan Read partners receive free reader’s guides, teacher’s guides, bookmarks, and other supplemental materials. Schools, libraries, colleges, arts and cultural institutions, and a range of other nonprofits are eligible to be Great Michigan Read partners. Registration is open now through Michigan Humanities (https://www.michiganhumanities.org/).

The 2019-2020 Great Michigan Read title was selected by six regional selection committees representing all corners of Michigan, including representatives from Alpena, Alcona, and Presque Isle counties. After reading books with Michigan themes or locations from June through September 2018, the selection committee chairs met in Lansing in October 2018 and selected “What the Eyes Don’t See” as the next Great Michigan Read. “What the Eyes Don’t See” also has been chosen by the states of Maryland and Rhode Island for their programs similar to the Great Michigan Read.