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Jaden Smith on Flint, Michigan, and How We Can All Change the World


Ahead of his 21st birthday, the activist let us know his master plan for helping those in critical need.

Jaden Smith is, undeniably, an activist. For those who intimately know the 21-year-old, they'd say his passion for creating a better world is truly in his DNA.


By now, we all know his famous parents — Will and Jada Smith — who raised him to be compassionate, self-aware, and humble. But with each move he makes, he's carving out his own legacy of humanitarianism, and it doesn't seem to stop.

Case in point: Last spring, Jaden announced that he was installing a water-filtration system in Flint, Michigan (after sending cases of his JUST Water bottles for a time), that can clean up to 10 gallons of water at once for families. The process takes about 60 seconds and is free for public use. After years of waiting for officials to clean up the mess in Flint, including changing its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River in 2014, Jaden came up with his own small solution to a bigger issues of systemic r*acism.

A couple weeks ahead of his milestone birthday, Jaden gave Teen Vogue an update on his work in Flint, shared his upcoming plans with JUST Water, and impressed on us the importance of sustainability.

Teen Vogue: Give us an update on JUST Water. How’s the factory in upstate New York? What has growth been like over the past year?

Jaden Smith: JUST is doing great. We have grown a lot over the past year.


We have expanded to the U.K. and Australia, which is so amazing. In the U.S., we have many new partners on board — multiple hotels, the American Airlines lounges, several zoos, and aquariums. We are now in Whole Foods stores and have recently been added in CVS stores across the country. We launched our organic flavors about a year ago, and we are about to launch three more! We have a lot of exciting things going on.

TV: In a lot of ways, the company is ahead of its time by creating a solution that reduces the carbon footprint. In what other ways would you like to see this happen, in terms of everyday products Americans consume that could be more environmentally friendly?

JS: We created JUST to be “just” what you’re describing — a brand that includes a variety of products that are high in quality and packaged in sustainable materials. We started with water because bottled water is so dominated by plastic, but we are working on other products now.

TV: Have you felt a responsibility to give back from a young age? And is your motivation with JUST Water less about altruism and more about how the earth is in danger?

JS: Yes, very early on I realized I wanted philanthropy to play a central role in my life.


Starting JUST was almost entirely about an altruistic endeavor, the altruism around reducing greenhouse gas emissions from everyday things. The goal was to create a way where consumers could have an alternative way to vote with their dollar. In this case, they are voting for ethical water harvesting, less fossil fuel input into the packaging, and in turn, a lower product carbon footprint.

TV: How did the Flint, Michigan, initiative come to fruition, and what’s been going on with the filters since the announcement was made?

JS: Having spent the past eight years working on and learning about water, its complexities, characteristics, and challenges around the world, I and a group of like-minded water people wanted to extend our expertise in a specific and strategic way, mainly around engineering solutions to problems in the U.S. and abroad. We have designs on a number of crisis areas around the country to deploy additional solutions, but naturally, Flint was a choice for a variety of reasons. First, because the crisis persists. Second, the conversation about Flint had faded from the public consciousness, and that is a problem.

Unfortunately, you cannot just drive to Flint, Michigan, and say, “We are here with a solution for you!” — it doesn’t work like that.


So we did a lot of preproduction work in Flint to find the appropriate, thoughtful, and neutral way to partner. This led us to First Trinity Baptist Church in Flint. Pastor and first lady Erza and Catrina Tillman, and their team of church deacons, have been conducting water services for bottled distribution for the past five years. We spent a lot of time planning and learning about one another's abilities. Together, we engineered a solution from both a hardware standpoint and a social standpoint, to have the best path to success for the community and the churches immediate needs — purity, efficiency, transparency, and trust.

We also wanted to create great content and easy calls to action. This would allow anyone tuning into the project to learn, or relearn, about the Flint crisis, but from a solutions-based lens, and to be able to take action immediately. The outpouring of support and donations have been absolutely phenomenal. The incoming requests for more water boxes (and there have been well over 300) have also become a learning point for us about how many cities are suffering like Flint that are not talked about. We want to help them too. And we will.

TV: What are your hopes for the next generation in terms of sustainability efforts?


JS: My generation and the next generation are the solvers. My goal is to motivate as many as I can to become solution-based activists. The goal is to become experts in not just the issues we face, but around the solutions we have in our hands. In the labs, the universities, in the clean-tech startup community and beyond to mitigate these challenges from a strategic and engineered approach. I want my generation and the next one to understand that the private and public sectors are both needed to solve big issues. We need to put pressure on both by voting — with our dollar and the ballot. Vote, vote, vote, vote!

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