Kory Johnson

by Goldman Environmental Prize

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.

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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.

Page created on 3/24/2006 1:27:51 AM

Last edited 1/5/2017 9:40:52 PM

Related Links

Environmental crusaders honored
Greenpeace - strives to create a green and peaceful world.
The Environmental Protection Agency - works to protect human health and to safeguard the environment.

Extra Info

The Goldman Environmental Prize Logo

The Goldman Environmental Prize is the world's largest prize program honoring grassroots environmentalists. Founded in 1990 by Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the prize awards $100,000 annually to six people from each of the inhabited continental regions. Nominated by a network of internationally known environmental organizations and a confidential panel of environmental experts, recipients are chosen for their sustained and important environmental achievement. The prize seeks to offer these activists the recognition, visibility, and credibility their efforts deserve. In addition, the financial assistance enables them the freedom to pursue their visions for a better world for all living things.

Author Info

One of the 1998 Goldman Environmental Prize winners was Kory Johnson, who said:

"Young 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: environmental justice."