Ticiea's tireless fight

Ticiea Fletcher stands in her backyard with her daughter, Logan Jessica, 10. They live in the Jordan neighborhood of North Minneapolis.

Ticiea Fletcher stands in her backyard with her daughter, Logan Jessica, 10. They live in the Jordan neighborhood of North Minneapolis.

Ten years ago, Ticiea Fletcher’s toddlers were poisoned by lead, and her life changed forever. At the time she was in her mid-30s with a college degree in Business Management and a passion for housing the homeless. Now she fights lead full time: caring for her son, Dustin Luke, who was disabled by his exposure to it and advocating on the ground in neighborhoods and at the state capitol to save other families from the difficulties her family has experienced.

By Kenzie O'Keefe; Photos by David Pierini

When did you become aware of the dangers of lead? Ten years ago I was living in South Minneapolis – at the corner of Chicago and Lake in a beautiful duplex. It had a three season sun porch with 18 windows that we didn’t know were full of lead. My kids, Logan Jessica, now 10, and Dustin Luke, now 9, got poisoned from the lead dust found on the floors. My son became mentally disabled and has recently been diagnosed with autism.

How is your son doing these days? God has brought my son a long way. In the beginning, he was severely bow legged. After about a year, his legs began to strengthen up each year. It seems like something would always worsen or get better. He would have tantrums because he couldn’t talk. Today he is able to hold small conversations and is able to ask for what he wants and especially where he wants to go. He has severe sensory issues and some behavior issues that are caused by the poisoning. There are a lot of things we struggle with on a day to day basis, but we work through them slowly. I just want him to be safe and happy. 

How did you transition from being the mother of children poisoned by lead to an activist fighting it? The people of the community gave me the name activist; my children made this my cause. 

You’ve fought for lead safety measures at the state legislature. What has that looked like? I have been working very hard and closely with Representative Karen Clark who is the chief author of a bill (HF No. 491) in the House of Representatives. We have taken the issues to our legislators explaining to them this is not just an African American issue but a human issue. It can affect all races of people, and we shouldn’t wait until the last minute to do something about something that is preventable or wait until it hits their backyards. There are 700 or more children getting poisoned each year by lead in the state of Minnesota. We have the high numbers. Something needs to change.

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How has your bill been received at the legislature? It (HF No. 491.) has not gotten a hearing. The legislators okay-ed Sunday liquor sales, but they won’t look at the lead safety bill and the information that we have shown them a thousand times. We could be the first state to attack this issue and set something in place for our low-income taxpayers. Why wait until something bad happens and then do something?  Even though we are low-income, we are still taxpayers who deserves to live in safe, decent and affordable housing. I’m sure that most of our legislators are living well. Why shouldn’t we? 

What do average people need to know about lead that most currently don’t? Lead is dangerous – it can cause death and learning disabilities in young children. It can be found in their homes. They can contact 311 if they suspect that lead is in their homes or they can purchase an eight dollar lead check kit from Menards or Walmart.

If you had a magic wand and could change one thing related to lead in this city, what would you change? That it doesn’t happen to another child.

What advice about lead do you have for parents? Don’t be so quick to move to a rental property. Check the unit out first. Ask questions about the year the property was built, and act like an inspector: check for chipping and peeling paint on and around the property, especially windows. Make sure that the lead disclosure gives correct information before signing it. Washing your hands and your children’s hands before preparing and eating any meals or snacks will cut down the chance of being poisoned. Call 311 for help if you need it!

In many ways it seems like you’re fighting this battle alone – without the consistent backing of one organization or team. God is with me at all times. He has been my guide through the entire journey. I’m never alone. Just because you don’t see people walking with me doesn’t mean that I am alone. There’s about twelve others working with me daily. 

Getting people to take action on this issue has been difficult. How do you keep from giving up? I’m on an assignment from God, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. To be honest with you, there are many people taking action on the issue. It’s our legislators who haven’t.  We have nurses, organizations, some political people, families and me of course. I have given up many times, but every time God does a new thing in my son’s life. It’s like a push from him, telling me to keep going. I’m not going to stop until I win. 

Want to meet Fletcher, get tested for lead, and learn about lead-related resources available to you? Attend her National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week event at River of Life Church (2200 Fremont Ave. N) on October 23 from 5-7 pm

Kenzie O'Keefe