One of the 1998 Goldman Environmental Prize winners was Kory Johnson, who said:
people everywhere are entitled to environmental justice, no matter what their
color or socioeconomic status. My sister died when I was nine and a half, and
that is when I started Children for a Safe Environment. Ten years later, with a
lot of victories behind us, we still fight the same fight every day:
In 1989, Kory Johnson's older sister died
at the age of sixteen. The cause of death was heart problems caused by contaminated well water her mother drank while pregnant. After attending a
bereavement support group for children in her community, nine-year-old Johnson
discovered that many families in her neighborhood had lost loved ones and that
there were more cases of cancer in the neighborhood than in others. Johnson decided that she needed to
speak up against the environmental health hazards that children face, and so she formed a group called
Children for a Safe Environment (CSE). Against the advice of some of her
teachers, who cautioned that her activism would harm her chances of getting into
college, Johnson became a tireless advocate and organizer for environmental
justice. With many victories behind them, CSE is now 359 members strong. Most
of these youth live in underprivileged neighborhoods that are often targets for incinerators or industrial waste dumps.
CSE's first battle was against the enormous ENSCO hazardous waste
incinerator and dump that was being planned for a poor Arizona community. In a
contract with the state of Arizona, ENSCO intended to dispose of all hazardous
waste produced by the state, as well as hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic
materials from out of state. Through letter writing, public education,
protests, demonstrations and children's art projects, Johnson and CSE teamed
with Greenpeace Action and effectively fought the project. The youths'
tenacity and savvy drew the attention of the media, and in 1991, the
governor of Arizona canceled plans for the ENSCO hazardous waste incinerator as
a result of the protests.
Since that time Johnson has traveled around the U.S. speaking on behalf of children in minority communities whose well-being has been compromised by polluting industries and waste sites. In 1991, students from the tri-state area of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania pooled their money to purchase a plane ticket for Johnson, who met with their newly-formed children's environmental group and spoke out against the WTI incinerator being built in the heart of their community. In 1996, she took part in a protest co-organized by
CSE, Greenpeace and other environmental justice groups at a railroad spur in Mobile, Arizona to stop the arrival of a train that carried forty-five car loads of DDT-contaminated
dirt from a California Superfund site. Johnson, who is of Native American and Mexican American descent, attended Arizona State University. She has recently worked with Native Americans and other groups in Ward Valley, California, where a government radioactive waste dump is planned.
Johnson has crusaded in her own community, educating about recycling, styrofoam reduction and the waste problems associated with disposable diapers. In addition to her work for the environment, this energetic young woman also
devotes time to sick children, disaster victims, the homeless and AIDS groups.
Since receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize, Kory has been honored with several other important commendations for her impressive environmental work.
Her story was profiled by Newsweek and by the Ms. Foundation for Women, which also named her one of the Top 10 Female Role Models for 1998. In 1999 Hispanic Business selected Kory Arvizu-Johnson as one of the "100 Most Influential Hispanics", the youngest to grace the year's impressive list.