Champions in the Spotlight

April 21, 2016

This post was authored by HEFN Director Kathy Sessions.

Major awards this spring are shining much-deserved light on champions of environmental health and justice.  Recent winners include a student, an attorney, a pediatrician, four biologists, a grantmaker, and an environmental health advocate.  Their stories vary, but their common story is about people becoming powerful advocates for public health, the environment, and social equity.  Each of the honorees saw critical problems within their communities or professions.   Each persistently focused on that problem.  And each actively engaged with others to grow those seeds of concern into major changes making people and environments healthier.

It is great to see this phenomenal work get major recognition in many places, from medical societies and the National Press Club to philanthropy.  Read on for a healthy dose of inspiration!

Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize

Destiny Watford just won the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize for North America.  The twenty-year-old is this year’s youngest recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest award recognizing grassroots environmental activists which annually honors grassroots heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited regions.  “In a community whose environmental rights had long been sidelined to make room for heavy industry, Destiny Watford inspired residents of a Baltimore neighborhood to defeat plans to build the nation’s largest incinerator less than a mile away from her high school,” said the Goldman Prize.  HEFN 2015 meeting participants visited Watford’s Curtis Bay neighborhood and heard her via video sharing insights from the community’s inspiring and power-building organizing.

Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize

The 2016 European Goldman Prize went to another environmental health and justice champion, Slovakian attorney Zuzana Caputova.  From the award: “A public interest lawyer and mother of two, Zuzana Caputova spearheaded a successful campaign that shut down a toxic waste dump that was poisoning the land, air and water in her community, setting a precedent for public participation in post-communist Slovakia.“  This year’s Goldman honorees are bright lights in sober context of the March 2016 assassination of Berta Caceres, a 2015 Goldman Prize winner and brave indigenous activist for environmental, health, and social justice in Honduras.

Photo Credit: Ridenhour Prize

At an April National Press Club event, Flint, Michigan pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha was awarded the 2016 Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling. The Ridenhour Prize is annually awarded to a citizen, corporate or government whistleblower, investigative journalist, or organization for bringing a socially important issue to public attention.  The Prize praised Hanna-Attisha for helping expose Flint's water crisis and for “fearlessly and relentlessly speaking truth to power in order to promote the public health and safety of her community.”  Hanna-Attisha also has helped create a new Flint Child Health and Development Fund at the Flint Community Foundation to assist impacted families.

Image Credit: Pete Myers

Scientists Andrea Gore, R. Thomas Zoeller, Pete Myers, and Jean-Pierre Bourguignon jointly won the Endocrine Society’s 2016 “Outstanding Public Service Award” in February.  Endocrine News reported that “These four individuals have worked tirelessly with the endocrine community to communicate to the public, scientists, healthcare professionals, and global governments about the role and impacts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on normal physiology, and how EDCs challenge long-used approaches in identifying toxic substances.”  Myers, a HEFN founder and still-active participant as a trustee of the Jenifer Altman Foundation, was further cited: “In establishing the Environmental Health Network, Pete Myers changed the relationship between scientists and the press, and improved the accuracy of scientific reporting.”

Photo Credit: Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities

And in March, several HEFN colleagues cheered as Amy Solomon received the Funders Network on Smart Growth and Livable Communities’ 2016 Nick Bollman award.  TFN annually recognizes a philanthropic leader whose commitment to building strong, sustainable, and equitable communities inspires others.  Amy Solomon is a long-time participant in HEFN, starting as a program officer role with the Bullitt Foundation and now as a trustee of the Jenifer Altman Foundation.  In honoring her, TFN said, “An inveterate explorer and experimenter, Amy is always searching for new ideas to address intractable problems, while working collaboratively across local, regional, and national perspectives. Described repeatedly as a weaver and connector, Amy has played a masterful role in connecting people and issues, and shaped her philanthropic portfolio to bring inclusiveness and equity to the center of her grantmaking strategy.“

Photo Credit: MacArthur Prize

These stellar champions join stellar company.   Last fall, environmental health advocate and Health Care Without Harm co-founder Gary Cohen won a MacArthur Fellow Prize.   Revisit our July 2015 post to see other awards recognizing environmental health and justice leaders.  

Kudos to these award winners.  We look forward to seeing other great work hit the spotlight.

Editors' Note:  After this post was published, we got word of yet another major award.  Congrats to the numerous HEFN members and other Divest-Invest signatories, for winning the 2016 Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Award for Brave Philanthropy for their commitment to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions


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