Marseille “Mars” Allen ’01 is Leading Efforts Online and on the Ground to Aid Fellow Flint Residents During the Water Crisis

February 25, 2016
Marseille "Mars" Allen '01, Jamilah Freeman '02, Dana Weekes '03, and Hollee Mangrum-Willis '04 in Flint, Michigan.

Non Ministrari sed Ministrare, "Not to be ministered unto but to minister." This is Wellesley’s motto and it is something Wellesley women take to heart and embody long after they graduate.

A living example of service to others, Marseille "Mars" Allen '01, a Detroit native who recently moved to Flint, Michigan, is leading an effort to aid fellow Flint residents during the water crisis currently plaguing the city. Allen told CNN, "I was always raised to give back." In an interview with Wellesley Underground, she explained that her parents are heavily involved in the community and added that she believes this focus on service is what brought her to Wellesley.

"Wellesley has had a huge impact on me. My sisters have always been supportive of whatever I have done," Allen said. She has been joined, both online and on the ground, by many of these supportive Wellesley sisters, including Alicia Whittington '01, Jamilah Freeman '02, Elizabeth Miranda '02, Dana Weekes '03, Dara Taylor '04, Hollee Mangrum-Willis '04, and Charlotte Newman '04.

The water crisis, a result of contamination caused by the city's decades-old network of lead and iron pipes and exacerbated by a change in the source of the water supply, is poisoning residents. People have been left stranded without a safe water supply for drinking, bathing, or other personal use.

"This is one of the most horrific, man-made human tragedies in modern American history," Allen said. The water supply is so dangerous that the city's 100,000 residents have to rely on special filters or bottled water. However, not everyone can afford the expense and some are unable to reach distribution centers without considerable effort.

Allen started a fundraising campaign to help people get bottled water. Beginning with an event on Facebook, and then moving to the fundraising site GoFundMe, her Water for Flint campaign has raised over $50,000 to date from over 1100 supporters. "We're focused on the hardest hit areas," Allen told the Detroit Free Press. "The elderly can't pick up water so we'll deliver it to them and others in need."

Allen has organized several distributions including one on February 13. During this recent distribution, several alumnae traveled to Flint and, together with UAW Local 6000, distributed some 960 cases of water and 1,000 packs of baby wipes.

"Sometimes you feel an innate responsibility to help others, simply because that is what the human spirit is compelled to do," said Dana Weekes '03, who was among the women who made the trip to Flint. "I have truly been touched by the outpouring of support for this fundraising effort… It is amazing how starting an "event" on Facebook has created such a ripple effect—and it is more amazing to see how many of our Wellesley sisters immediately participated. The sisterhood is powerful collectively."

Those who could not make the trip to Flint have given generously of their time and talents to the project by supporting online efforts. "I gave, but simply giving a donation didn't feel like enough. So, I sent out emails and broadcast the challenge to college, graduate school and professional networks," said Charlotte Newman '04.

Newman, who is now an economic policy advisor in the United States Senate, once worked as an advisor to Congressman Dan Kildee. Kildee represents Flint in the House of Representatives. She also has a personal connection to Flint; her fiancée is from the city. "From teaching third grade after Wellesley College to returning to public policy after graduating from Harvard Business School, I've long been inspired to use my experiences in service of others," Newman said.

Newman, who met Allen during her prospective student visit in 2000, said, "Mars has always been a natural leader with a big heart, so you don't forget crossing her path."