A 10-year-old girl who gained fame by encouraging President Barack Obama to visit Flint, Mich., in 2016 during the city’s water crisis is in the spotlight again, this time for helping several hundred underprivileged kids and their chaperones see “Black Panther” over the weekend.
The girl, Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, worked with her mother and cousin to raise more than $16,000 through a GoFundMe campaign. They rented out a theater in Flint that seated about 150 and then said they had enough money left over to buy tickets for 600 more kids, as well as “Black Panther” merchandise for them.
“Kids need to see themselves as superheroes,” said Mari, known as “Little Miss Flint” because of a pageant she won several years ago. “Black kids are seen as victims — and we’re not.”
Her mother, Loui “Lulu” Brezzell, said she worked with shelters, as well as boys and girls clubs, to find children who otherwise probably would not have seen the movie in the theater.
Felicia Copeny, Mari’s cousin, wrote on their crowdfunding page that the film’s message is a necessary one for young people, especially in her community.
“This movie is a very important film especially for people of color, this is the first superhero blockbuster film featuring a majority black cast,” she wrote. “This is important for every child especially those of color, to see themselves represented in a cinematic feature film.”
The initiative is part of the #BlackPantherChallenge, which was started in New York City to raise funds for kids to see the movie.
“A lot of these kids do not get the chance to go see movies in theaters and we want to make sure they don’t miss out on this experience,” Mari’s cousin wrote. “… It is so important that marginalized children see a representation of themselves, especially in a city like Flint, Michigan where the kids only see themselves in the media as victims of our cities water crisis.”
Mari had a big moment in the limelight in 2016 after she wrote a letter to Obama asking whether she could meet him or the first lady on a trip to Washington, during which she and her mother and went to see Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) testify before Congress about the Flint water crisis.
“My mom said chances are you will be to busy with more important things but there is a lot of people coming on these buses and even just a meeting from you or your wife would really lift peoples spirits,” Mari wrote. “Thank you for all that do for our country.”
The day came and went without a response, but when Mari and her mother got home, the White House called and said Obama was planning a trip to Flint and wanted to meet Mari. The moment she saw him, she ran to him and gave him a huge hug that was captured on video and seen around the world.
Brezzell, Mari’s mother, said her daughter has since wanted to use her brush with fame for good. In addition to helping hundreds of kids see “Black Panther” last weekend, Mari has started a #DearFlintKids campaign, in which she asks people from all over to write a letter to a child in Flint, letting them know that someone cares about them.
The campaign started about a week and a half ago on Twitter, and Brezzell said her daughter has received about 2,000 letters for children in her post office box.
“The letters are sending a positive message to Flint kids,” Brezzell said. “So Flint kids know people haven’t forgotten about them.”