When Destiny Watford was 16, she discovered she was getting a new neighbor: a giant trash incinerator. The plant would emit hundreds of kilograms of toxic lead and mercury into the air every year and would be less than 2 kilometers from her Baltimore secondary school.
Watford had always considered herself shy, but she knew she had to act. She gathered fellow students into an organization, Free Your Voice, that argued against the plant and for cleaner energy.
For Watford, it was personal. Her mother, Kimberly Kelly, had battled asthma for years. The air in her neighborhood, Curtis Bay, is among the most polluted in all of Maryland, and many residents suffer respiratory problems and related health issues.
With a rallying cry of “Clear air is a human right,” the group knocked on doors in her neighborhood, spoke at community meetings and organized protests.
The group helped persuade businesses to withdraw investments in the project, and in March 2016, the state of Maryland revoked the building permit.
Free Your Voice’s work isn’t done though. “This could be the site of the nation’s largest trash-burning incinerator, or it could be the site of the largest solar farm on the Eastern Seaboard,” said Watford, who is now a junior at Towson University.
By mobilizing her community against the incinerator project, Watford earned one of six 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded to environmental advocates from around the world.
The $175,000 award allows Watford to continue her work with Free Your Voice. She said she plans to use the prize to help transform historically polluted Curtis Bay, through sustainable solar and recycling projects.
“Curtis Bay is my home,” she said. “I want to protect my home and the people that I care about.”
You, like Watford, can make a difference in your community. Not sure where to start?
- If you are a university student, you can learn more and meet like-minded people by joining groups active in building sustainable communities.
- Faith-based organizations offer another way to get involved in environmental causes.
- New technology can help. Today’s software can give you tips based on your energy usage, while publicly available data and a new generation of inexpensive, portable devices can help you monitor air quality where you live.