Alisha Winters's son Jayvon Riley, 11, fishes in the Detroit River with his friend James Beverly, 7. Health advocates routinely pass out flyers along the river warning that certain kinds of fish shouldn't be eaten because they might be contaminated. | Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures Nikeya Aaron, 9, enjoys a moment of weightlessness in Belanger Park, which is sandwiched between the coal-fired River Rouge Power Plant and a massive steel mill. | Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures Alisha Winters takes son Robert Connor, 13, and daughters Myshelle James (with bike), 4, and Deborah Smith, 5, to volunteer at a local farmers' market. "I'm very hopeful," Winters said. "In 10 years I picture Rouge being a very clean, safe environment for our children to live and work." | Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures Myshelle James, 4, rides her bike in River Rouge's Memorial Park while her brothers play basketball and her mother, Alisha Winters (not pictured), helps at a nearby farmers' market. | Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures From right: Alisha Winters invites Kamajia and Kerriona Corbin to a Sierra Club–sponsored community meeting featuring University of Michigan professors who published a study showing how air pollution affects children's health and academic scores throughout the state. | Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures Robert Connor looks down from the football stadium bleachers at River Rouge High School. | Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures Alisha Winters and her seven children. | Ami Vitale/Panos Pictures

Alisha Winters
River Rouge, Michigan

I've been in Ecorse and River Rouge for the past three years, almost four. I have seven children. We live in Rouge now, right by the train station that brings in coal to the power plant and the steel plant. We're right in the midst of it.

I was shocked when people started telling me that we're in one of the most polluted areas in Michigan. Sometimes when you drive out here, you have to roll up your windows. You're like, "What is that smell?"

Two of my children have asthma. My son has had asthma since he was born, and my daughter was just diagnosed this summer. It very much took me by surprise. She had to be rushed to the hospital. She stopped breathing. Now she has an inhaler that she has to use daily.

If you circle around in this community, you'll see a lot of people on oxygen, a lot of people with cancer. They don't really have a clue what happened or where it started.

I volunteer. That's my passion. I enjoy being able to help and serve the people of River Rouge. I feel like my obligation to the community is to make them more aware. Most of the people here have been at the bottom of the bottom. But if I can smile through my ordeal and pass my smile off to someone else, my day is worth waking up. It's worth getting dressed and doing things like going out in the rain to help with the farmers' market. It's also a good role model for my kids. All of my children are involved in volunteering.

I'm very hopeful. I'm excited. Because I know that I play a role in it. In 10 years I picture Rouge being a very clean, safe environment for our children to live and work. Together, we're going to do great things to make it better for our children. I say that with great confidence. It's gonna happen. (Interviewed August 13 and 15, 2012)

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