Earth Day 2016 will be quite different and special for Baltimore City’s Destiny Watford. Tonight, she will walk on to the San Francisco Opera House stage and accept her 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize. She is one of six international winners – ordinary people that took extraordinary grassroots action to better our environment. Goldman Environmental Prize winners receive $175,000 in funding to pursue their environmental vision. For Destiny Watford, now a student at Towson University, that vision will include helping Baltimore City’s Curtis Bay become a thriving community supported by green jobs and fair development.
You may remember reading about Destiny Watford and the youth group Free Your Voice. Under Watford’s vision and leadership, the high school organization danced, sang and protested in an effort to stop construction of the country’s largest trash incinerator one mile from their Baltimore City Benjamin Franklin High School. Destiny’s individual action starting a student-led opposition group ended with the extraordinary action that the $1 billion trash burning facility will not be built in Baltimore City.
Watford’s amazing story touches on two things we can all learn from – inspiration and reaching out.
How did Destiny Watford become an environmental activist? During her high school senior year, Watford attended a play called “Enemy of the People.” The play focused on a small town being poisoned by the town’s main attraction, the hot springs. The play focused the spotlight on government’s role and moral responsibilities when people’s health and lives are at risk. The play struck a chord with the shy young teenager, and after discussing it with a school advisor, she co-founded Free Your Voice, a student organization dedicated to community rights and social justice.
Watford reached out to high school teachers who provided the guidance and support the students needed to start a group from scratch. When Free Your Voice reached out to their community, they gained critical local support. When the youth group connected with United Workers, a grassroots organizing non-profit, the team learned critical organizing skills and gained the support that comes with a larger organization. Lastly, Free Your Voice reached out to environmental groups – Environmental Integrity Project and Sierra Club to name a few- that offered key expertise in legal, political and business matters that helped Destiny Watford, Free Your Voice and Curtis Bay change the direction of their community’s future.