Destiny Watford (Photo illustration by Elena Scotti; Image courtesy of Destiny Watford)

Destiny Watford is the accidental environmental activist America needs right now. Her quest for clean air all started when she was a senior in high school after she saw a play about a small community whose lives were at risk because of a polluted hot spring.

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The play’s setting mirrored Curtis Bay, an industrial neighborhood in Baltimore, which is one of the most polluted areas in the state of Maryland. Far too many of Destiny’s friends and family were dealing with the complications of asthma because of the toxic air.

CATEGORY: Green Innovation
AGE: 21
HOMETOWN: Baltimore
EDUCATION: Towson University
SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook

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So, four years ago, with the rallying cry, “Clean air is a human right,” the now 21-year-old Towson University student mobilized her classmates to stop the construction of a giant incinerator in their neighborhood. The project would have emitted 1,240 pounds of lead and mercury—annually.

Destiny co-founded Free Your Voice, a student-led organization dedicated to fighting for social justice. Then, in May 2014, she and other students urged Baltimore City Public Schools and other local government agencies and nonprofit organizations to divest from the incinerator project. The following February, BCPS decided that it would back out of its contract with the incinerator’s developers. Months later, after Destiny and Free Your Voice educated its residents on the effects of the project, all of the stakeholders in the incinerator project had divested, halting the construction.

“People thought of our fight to stop the incinerator [a] cute after-school hobby,” she said. “It was not just a hobby, it was an act of survival.”

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In April 2016, Destiny was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, the highest international award for environmental activists.