Environmentalists often get a bad rep in the pantheon of activists. Fundamentally, they’re fighting for every living being. But their passion can be pushed aside by a desire to address more, seemingly pressing, injustices of human rights. Destiny Watford knows better.
The former Benjamin Franklin High School student from Curtis Bay, Maryland made it her mission to shut down hazardous trash incinerators that are slowly killing her community.
“What brought me in was the anger,” she told ESSENCE about the first incinerator she worked to shut down.
Less than a mile from her high school and home, a local trash incinerator that would burn four thousand tons of trash a day, 240 pounds of mercury and 1000 pounds of lead annually, was approved to be built. Watford found out and went into action.
“The decisions that affect the land that we live on are made behind closed doors and community members don’t see the light of day until a development is built—or until they’re dying of lung cancer,” said Watford. “When you’ve been living in a matrix, you know in this reality, the injustices that you’re facing or that families face, become normalized and you don’t question it anymore.”
Enraged by news of the incinerator, Watford—winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize winner—gathered a group of students at her school, formed an advocacy group called Free Your Voice, and petitioned residents to stop its construction. In the end it was stopped by an air-quality permit issue, but their presence in the shutdown was overwhelmingly felt.
Recently honored as one of ESSENCE’s “Woke 100” women, Watford is passionate about staying vigilant about issues in her community and beyond. “Being woke equates to when you question things,” she said. “[It’s’ the beginning of recognizing that the things that you thought were normal are not normal. They’re injustice; they are obscene; they should not exist.”
She continues to prevent the building of incinerators that cause one-third of Baltimore’s pollution.
“When we stand together united with a singular vision, this will not be our community,” she said. “Our community will not be a dumping ground.”