Hephatha Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, Wis.
Author of Aidan: The Lead-Free Superhero, Coalition on Lead Emergency organizer, lead awareness advocate.

I have been a member of Hephatha Lutheran Church since I was a teenager. My grandmother was a very devoted Christian who taught me about God and brought me to church every Sunday. When she passed away, I took her death very hard and blamed God. It was my family’s love and support that brought me to the local church in our neighborhood to help me restore my faith in the Lord and reconnect with my grandmother’s memory and spirit.

I try to involve myself in every aspect of my congregation. I love to attend Sunday worship, Tuesday praise, Bible study, Sunday school and Black History Month programs there. The Strong Baby Sanctuary initiative and the Coalition on Lead Emergency (COLE) both started at my church. It is important to me to be active in my church community. I was raised by the church, and I want my children to be raised by the church as well.

I have two sons. Both were impacted by the exposure of lead poisoning. My younger son, Aidan, was severely impacted and had to be hospitalized twice due to the lead hazards in our unsafe housing conditions. As a result of lead exposure, my sons have to endure lifelong issues that make it hard for them to control their behavior and focus in school.

Aidan was having difficulty in school due to bullying and negative feedback from teachers. He only felt safe and comfortable to be himself at Hephatha. It was really his loving spirit that convinced me to keep coming to church even though I was going through a lot due to lead exposure. I was basically homeless, living in a shelter and dealing with my own health issues as well as the new health problems that my kids faced. Aidan’s love inspired me to speak openly about the personal problems my family was facing. My story inspired a lot of other families to share their stories of lead exposure. I heard a lot of stories similar to what I had to endure with my child. My shame turned to outrage and advocacy for my community. I didn’t want any other parents or children to endure what my family had to overcome. I felt like it was time we advocated for ourselves to create a positive change in our community.

As a result of lead exposure, my sons have to endure lifelong issues that make it hard for them to control their behavior and focus in school.

COLE advocates for the removal of lead in water, paint and soil, the three main sources of lead exposure. Due to all the great advocacy work of COLE, I was honored to introduce Vice President Kamala Harris when she came to Milwaukee to promote the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in January of last year. This year I was honored to attend the [Accelerating Lead Pipe Replacement Summit] at the White House. The vice president invited me to introduce her before the committee members, and I was also invited as her guest to attend the presidential State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol. All of that recognition and support for COLE is exactly what we need to continue our efforts in removing all lead out of the city of Milwaukee.

When my boss, Richard Diaz, the chairperson for COLE, reached out to me and said the vice president of the United States of America would like to meet me and hear my story, I thought he was joking—and, honestly, I’m still in disbelief.

Aidan loves to swim, but due to the pandemic, he was not able to go to swim class anymore. He needed a new hobby and outlet, and that’s when he discovered his love of drawing. He drew a lot of great pictures about his time at the hospital due to his lead poisoning, and I shared those pictures with the vice president. She told me it would make a great story and that she couldn’t wait to see the book. I know she was just joking, but I really wanted to create a children’s book to spread lead awareness. I made sure to include an index page in the back of the book to provide parents with more resources than I had available when my child was lead-poisoned. I was honored to give Vice President Harris the first copy of the book, Aidan: The Lead-Free Superhero—which I wrote and Aidan illustrated—this year at the White House after finally getting it published with the help of my church family.

I am still in awe of the whole experience of the lead summit at the White House. This was the first time my children and I had traveled that far from home—and to be meeting the vice president at the White House! My older son, Jaidyn, helped me up to the podium to introduce the vice president, and Aidan ran onto the stage during my speech just to give me a hug. I will cherish that memory for the rest of my life.

I shared [Aidan’s] pictures with the vice president. She told me it would make a great story and that she couldn’t wait to see the book.

I was honored to be in attendance to hear the president of the United States give an update and plan of action on all the worldwide issues at the State of the Union. To hear him speak and meet him for the first time, and to know that he recognized that lead is indeed a very important issue that he said he will personally help eradicate, was a monumental moment in history to witness, and I am grateful to have been there for it.

The best way to support the eradication of lead exposure is to become aware of how to properly prevent the exposure of lead, especially in children. The best way you can learn this is by doing your research. The COLE website can help you stay informed and keep you up to date on upcoming meetings, which you can attend to hear from other parents from COLE about support and resources to help in the fight against lead.

I pray for every child who has to endure the lifelong effects of being lead-poisoned, and I pray that no other children have to endure what Aidan and I overcame due to the causes and effects of lead poisoning.

For me, grace is a way of life—an aura of self-awareness and inner peace that spreads humbleness and positivity to everyone you meet.

I’m a Lutheran because I love God and I know God loves me. It is through God’s love that I was able to accomplish the things I have accomplished. He is keeping me alive for that purpose, and I want to honor God’s love by fulfilling my purpose and sharing God’s love with my family.

John Potter
John G. Potter is content editor of Living Lutheran. He lives in St. Paul, Minn.

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