FLINT, MI – As she crossed the stage at Freeman Elementary, first-grader Damaria Malone handed a bright pink sticky note to Dave Smith that included a simple message.
More than 240 children seated in the stuffy auditorium at the school on the city’s south end Tuesday morning screamed out the same words at one point upon being given permission after they received free backpacks.
The backpacks stuffed with supplies were a portion of more than 5,000 bags to be handed to all Flint students out over the coming days following a collaboration between Flint Community Schools, Kids In Need Foundation, and the Marshall Mathers Foundation started by rap star Eminem.
Dave Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Kids in Need Foundation, said they approached Eminem for an event last year in Detroit, upon which he provided a check to purchase backpacks and supplies for students there.
“He didn’t want any recognition for that,” said Smith of Eminem, also known by his given name of Marshall Mathers. Eminem is on the same record label — Aftermath Entertainment — as Flint rapper Jon Connor.
Eminem sent a check in this year for the cause in Flint, but Smith said he also approached the foundation about the backpacks and snagged one to use in a Facebook post asking people for donations to aid students in the city.
“By providing backpacks and supplies to every student in the district, and working with Eminem on awareness of the needs here in Flint, it is our hope that inner-city students can come to school ready to learn and start a new year with their best foot forward,” said Smith.
Children circled the stage at Freeman, picking up their backpacks filled with pencils, folders, crayons, glue sticks, and other classroom essentials before filtering back into their seats before being dismissed back to class.
Delmarco Person, a sixth-grade student at Freeman Elementary, said he was excited to receive the blue and orange bag handed out on stage by Smith and Flint Board of Education members Harold Woodson and Vera Perry.
“I liked it so I won’t have to ask for a pencil from the teacher or anything because I have my own,” he said. Backpacks will be handed out to all students, from pre-kindergarten to high school seniors.
Michele Stinson, Freeman kindergarten teacher, hoped having the backpacks would serve as a reminder to students in her class to bring back their homework folder at the end of the week and noticed how excited they were upon the surprise announcement.
“You know that they really like them when they start to put them on right after they receive them,” she smiled.
The Kids in Need Foundation does not want to make the giveaway a one-off event, Smith said, and is in discussions to open up a teacher resource center as it has done at 38 other locations across the country where teachers can “shop” from stocked shelves for supplies.
Having the proper tools for learning can prevent students from “dropping out physically or mentally,” Smith said, whose organization has been looking at the city for some time.
“We identified (Flint) last spring. We started to take a look,” he said. “There have certainly been some challenges for the children and the families of Flint. This is one less thing they have to worry about.”
Woodson called the giveaway an “excellent example” of collaborative efforts the district is looking toward for the students, while Perry said it offered something positive after issues the city has gone through in recent years.
“Flint has gone through its problems,” she said. “Flint is still going through its problems, but people love children and we accept and we appreciate all the help that anyone can give our students.”