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Free Your Voice

Watford, Destiny01MFCurtis Bay has been called Baltimore’s epicenter of pollution, home at one point or another to a coal-burning power plant, a chemical-processing plant, a sewage treatment plant, a medical-waste incinerator and more.

But thanks largely to one determined teenager, it will not be home to the nation’s largest trash-burning incinerator.

Destiny Watford was a 17-year old senior at Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove when she learned about the incinerator. Tired of her community being “dumped on,” as she put it, she and a group of fellow students formed Free Your Voice, a group dedicated to blocking the plant. They studied the neighborhood’s sad history of pollution, knocked on doors, circulated petitions that gathered thousands of signatures in Curtis Bay, Brooklyn and Hawkins Point.

And they won. Against seeming insurmountable odds, Free Your Voice turned the tide of public opinion and changed the minds of state officials. Last year, plans for the 160-megawatt trash-to-energy facility were dropped. This year, Watford received the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize and was recently named one of 12 Next Generation Leaders by TIME magazine.

Watford’s success, which earned her international acclaim, was unexpected – even by her.

“We thought, ‘We’re just a bunch of teenagers, what can we do?’ ” said Watford, now a Towson University student. “By winning, we showed our community, city and the world that we have potential to create the kind of difference that changes the game completely.”