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A Flint Southwestern Classical Academy student peers over her prom date's shoulder during a slow dance at the University of Michigan-Flint campus in downtown Flint, May 7, 2016. The theme was "Masquerade."
A Flint Southwestern Classical Academy student peers over her prom date's shoulder during a slow dance at the University of Michigan-Flint campus in downtown Flint, May 7, 2016. The theme was "Masquerade."Brittany Greeson
A Flint Southwestern Classical Academy student peers over her prom date's shoulder during a slow dance at the University of Michigan-Flint campus in downtown Flint, May 7, 2016. The theme was "Masquerade."
Flint Southwestern Classical Academy senior Reyna Deloney exits a car along with her date, Johnanthony Fulgham, while getting dropped off at their prom in downtown Flint, May 2015. Members of the community lined the closed-down street to cheer and take pictures.
Friends of Taeyonna Perkins, 17, of Beecher, Mich., dance as she and her date make their entry during a pre-prom red carpet-style event at Dailey Elementary School in Mount Morris, Mich., May 20, 2016.
Beecher High School student Chatara Cornelius, 18, of Flint, Mich., dances from the window of a car as she makes her entry during a pre-prom red carpet-style event at Dailey Elementary School in Mount Morris, May 20, 2016.
Antwoin and Antonio Nelson, both 18, of Flint, Mich., pose for a pre-prom picture outside Northwestern High School, May 21, 2016.
Mattek Scott, 18, sports a gold cross and Jesus pendant during a pre-prom red carpet-style event outside Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., May 21, 2016.
A red carpet backdrop for prom portraits waits to be put away at the end of the Flint/Genesee Job Corps prom in downtown Flint, May 2015.
Students dance during a soul train line during prom at the Signature Chop House in Flushing, Mich., May 20, 2016.
Flint Southwestern Classical Academy students dance together during their "Masquerade"-themed prom at the University of Michigan-Flint campus in downtown Flint, May 7, 2016.
A group of friends join together in a circle as they dance during Flint Southwestern Classical Academy's "Masquerade"-themed prom at the University of Michigan-Flint campus in downtown Flint, May 7, 2016.
A Beecher High School student shows off his bejeweled red shoes during prom at the Signature Chop House in Flushing, Mich., May 20, 2016.
Prom king Mattek Scott, 18, of Flint, Mich., poses for a portrait at a Holiday Inn in Grand Blanc, May 21, 2016. "Not gonna lie, I tried to act surprised but I kind of knew," Scott said, regarding his win.
Prom queen Shakala Wiggins, 18, of Flint, Mich., poses for a portrait during prom at a Holiday Inn in Grand Blanc, May 21, 2016.
A wallet, lip gloss and shoes lay on a table as students dance at their prom, May 2015.
Toward the end of their prom night, girls attending Beecher High School's prom adjust their dresses before talking cell phone photos with friends and faculty, May 2015.
Students attending Beecher High School's prom dance together during a slow song at the Signature Chop House in Flushing, Mich., May 20, 2016.
Northwestern High School senior Daryl Jones rests his head at the Starlite Diner & Coney Island while waiting for food with his date, Destiny Clements, following prom, May 2015.
A Flint Southwestern Classical Academy student peers over her prom date's shoulder during a slow dance at the University
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Brittany Greeson
1 of 17

Prom Season in Flint: How the City Celebrates in a Time of Crisis

May 24, 2016

There’s the Flint, Mich., most Americans have seen over the last few months. Photos of residents holding up bottles of rust-colored water. Mothers visibly panicked about lead-poisoned children. Protesters wanting those responsible sent to prison.

But there’s also the Flint only its residents see. The one where life moves on because it has to. The one where people still find reasons to celebrate despite the fact that they can’t drink the water. The one where high school teenagers put on tuxes and tiaras and drive convertibles and dance and stay out until 3 a.m. Because it’s May in Flint, and that means it’s prom season.

Brittany Greeson, a 23-year-old freelance photographer and student at Western Kentucky University, chronicled Flint’s proms this year and last, even as the city tries to deal with lead that began leaching into the water supply in April 2014. “It’s important that life goes on,” says Greeson. “And prom is vibrant, celebratory. It’s a living, breathing part of the community.”

Prom in Flint often begins with a parade down Saginaw Street, drawing hundreds of residents to see high schoolers drive by in bronze Bonnevilles and horse-drawn carriages, the guys dressed in sparkled bow ties and bright blue blazers, the girls in flowing colorful dresses accompanied with jeweled bracelets and flashy nails.

Greeson has followed students from the downtown parade route to red carpets to the prom itself (“They killed it on the dance floor,” she says) and finally to one moment in 2015 that Greeson describes as her favorite: a couple, post-prom, sitting at Flint’s Starlite Diner & Coney Island in the early morning hours, exhausted.

“I thought it was so high school,” Greeson says. “All dressed up and still going to this diner.”

The city’s water crisis, meanwhile, continues. While Flint switched its water source back to Detroit’s system in October, the water is still unsafe to drink without a filter. And Greeson herself, who until recently lived in Flint, says she didn't bathe with the city’s water and used only bottled water to cook. Despite the lingering problems, Greeson’s photos show the bright spots still burning in a city that has had its share of dark moments.

“There’s a reason they’re called ‘Flintstones,’” Greeson says, referring to a nickname for Flint’s residents. “They’re a lot stronger than they look.”

Brittany Greeson is a photographer on the Emerging Talent roster of Getty Images Reportage. She was previously an intern at the Flint Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on Instagram @brittanygreeson.

Andrew Katz, who edited this photo essay, is TIME's international multimedia editor. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

Josh Sanburn, who wrote this article, is a staff writer at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @joshsanburn.

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