Andre Dirrell learned from a sibling two weeks ago that several relatives have lead poisoning as a result of contaminated water supplies in his native Flint, Michigan.
“I have at least 30 family members who are living there, and at least six or seven of my nieces and nephews ages 2 to 14 years old have been stricken with lead poisoning,” says Dirrell, a two-time 168-pound title challenger. “Many family members are still getting tested, so we’ve yet to know the full extent of who has been affected. It can range from the seven that we’re aware of to possibly 15 or 16.”
President Obama last month declared a national state of emergency in Flint, whose 102,000 residents have been exposed to water containing toxic levels of lead after the city’s water source was changed from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014. Subsequent blood tests of thousands of citizens have shown increased levels of poisonous lead, mostly in children.
Andre Dirrell and his younger brother, Anthony Dirrell, a former 168-pound champion, are from Flint. In addition to their nieces and nephews, the Dirrells’ grandfather and career-long trainer, Leon “Bumper” Lawson, may have also been affected.
“We’re not sure if my grandfather is stricken with it or not, so he’s going to be tested,” says Andre Dirrell, who has lived for nearly four years in Boynton Beach, Florida, with his wife, Alaia, and their three children ages 4 through 9.
“I grew up in Flint and lived there until 2012, and that city is in crisis right now. This has gone on for two years, and we didn’t take notice of it until possibly the past six months. It hurts knowing the possible long-term effects of it. If those were my kids, I would want something done, so it’s time for me to go back and do what I can for that city.”
To that point, Dirrell has launched a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising money to purchase bottled water for those in Flint. He plans to return to his hometown with Alaia this weekend.
“I will be in Flint personally to pass out water in one of the urban communities that I know of, and my aunt, Lanice Lawson, has already raised $54,000 with her GoFundMe page,” Dirrell says. “I’ve already sent $3,500 home, and I have a goal set at $10,000. My aunt says she’s going to match whatever I raise, and you can’t put a cap on what’s needed.
“As an athlete, I have a great appreciation for the importance of water in someone’s life. You can’t train without water. But the people in Flint need it for much more than drinking. They need it to bathe, cook and stay alive. This is a tragedy, and I feel as though I’m in a position to not only do what I can to help these people, but to encourage my fellow fighters and the whole boxing community to do what they can.”
Dirrell says he’s experienced a range of emotions since learning that the water crisis has affected his nieces and nephews. One of those emotions was rage.
“I know God hasn’t put that evil in me, but when you hear something like that going on with the government knowing about it, I’m a boxer so I want to fight,” says Dirrell, who is looking to return to the ring in April.
“God has blessed me and others with the talents and the funds to contribute, so I’m humbly challenging the professional boxing community in general to show that we care by helping us get this situation resolved as fast as we possibly can.”