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Speaking Truth To Power: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha & Lee-Anne Walters

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Join us to hear firsthand from Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Lee-Anne Walters, two essential voices and exceptional citizen activists who exposed the lead poisoning of Flint’s water supply and sounded the alarm on a grave public health crisis.

The 2016 PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award winners will share their story about standing up to city and state officials, spearheading the campaign to clean up Flint’s water supply, and holding those responsible accountable. The conversation will feature Dorian Warren, Roosevelt Institute Fellow, and Barbara Raab, Program Officer, Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation, as the moderator. Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America will offer introductory remarks. 

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Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Michigan State University and clinician at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, who was tipped off by the Virginia Tech water study and surveyed the hospital’s records of blood lead level testing in the city of Flint’s children. Her results revealed a doubling in the number of cases of lead poisoning since the city’s April 2014 move to a new water system. Dr. Hanna-Attisha took considerable professional risk in circumventing standard journal publication of her findings to instead announce them publicly in a press conference on September 24, 2015, at a time when the city and state continued to insist that Flint’s water was safe. Just over a week later, the state confirmed Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s findings, eliciting assistance from the Red Cross and National Guard, and a January 2016 declaration by President Obama of a State of Emergency in Flint. 

Lee-Anne Walters is a mother of four and she demanded that the city of Flint, MI test her water. She was devastated to learn that its lead level was far beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s permissible limit. Her four-year-old son Gavin was diagnosed with potentially irreversible lead poisoning. Despite the test results and Ms. Walters’ public protests to the Flint City Council, the city denied that it faced a serious water crisis. Ms. Walters then put in hours of research—uncovering glaring gaps in the city’s testing and corrosion control protocols—to take directly to the regional EPA. They then engaged experts from Virginia Tech to begin a study that uncovered lead throughout Flint’s water supply at levels up to twice what the EPA considers toxic waste.

Dorian T. Warren is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, an MSNBC Contributor, and Board Chair of the Center for Community Change. He is the Host and Executive Producer of “Nerding Out” on MSNBC’s digital platform, shift.msnbc.com. A scholar of inequality and American politics, he taught for over a decade at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, where he was Co-Director of the Columbia University Program on Labor Law and Policy, and serves as a Research Associate at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies.

Barbara Raab is a Creativity and Free Exression Program Officer at the Ford Foundation. She has focused on the development and support of high-quality, principled reporting in the United States, with an emphasis on social justice, a diversity of voices, and press freedoms. Her work has helped foster new and innovative models of reporting, as well as building and sustaining centers of journalistic excellence. In 2013, she served as senior producer for In Plain Sight, NBC News’ Ford-funded multiplatform reporting effort on poverty in the United States, a project that was honored with the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award.

Suzanne Nossel is the executive director of PEN American Center. Her career has spanned government service and leadership roles in the corporate and non-profit sectors. Prior to joining PEN, she served as executive director of Amnesty International USA. Before joining Amnesty, Nossel served as deputy assistant secretary of state for International Organizations at the U.S. Department of State, where she was responsible for multilateral human rights, humanitarian affairs, and women’s issues. Nossel has also served as chief operating officer for Human Rights Watch and deputy to the ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Nossel is also a columnist for Foreign Policy and has published op-ed pieces, and numerous scholarly articles.

Co-presented by PEN America and Ford Foundation.


On Monday, May 16, New York’s literati will gather at the PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History to honor fierce opponents of censorship around the globe. The 2016 PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award will be awarded to Lee-Anne Walters and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Flint, Michigan. 

Take Action

 I stand with @PENAmerican Lee-Anne Walters & @MonaHannaA in demanding clean water for Flint #FlintWaterCrisis #PENgala http://bit.ly/2016PENCourageAward

More on the 2016 Literary PEN Gala & Free Expression Awards

• PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award: Ahmed Naji
• PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award: J.K. Rowling
• Publisher Honoree: Michael Pietsch
• The PEN Literary Gala ceremony

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