Discovering Activism With Destiny Watford
Destiny Watford doesn’t look like she defeated a multi-million dollar incinerator before graduating high school.  In fact, she looks like any other 22-year-old girl, with a bright smile and a Sailor Moon dress. But don’t be fooled, with her group Free Your Voice, Destiny is a force to be reckoned with.
            Growing up in Curtis Bay, a predominantly industrial peninsula in south Baltimore, Destiny walked past a medical waste plant and endured some of the most polluted air in the city.
            Destiny describes Curtis Bay as a “hidden community in Baltimore,” something that is often overlooked, with a community suffering from what she calls a “dumping ground mentality.” Paired with the lack of information about the incinerator project, the Curtis Bay community didn’t know that the nation’s largest trash burning incinerator was scheduled to be built less than a mile from their local high school.
           Because the community wasn’t informed about the project, Destiny and the members of Free Your Voice, which she co-founded, had to educate themselves. And part of that process was the painful realization that politicians and organizations they thought had their best interests at heart were supporting the incinerator. “There’s a lot of trust that goes into believing in those institutions that you are a part of, or that you love. And that starts, unfortunately, to deteriorate when you learn that there is this great injustice being performed by these institutions. And so I began to lose trust in them, which is really sad, but it’s true,” Destiny said.
            The group of politicians and institutions included local delegates, as well as public libraries, museums and the Baltimore City Public School system. Many of the institutions had signed contracts saying that they would purchase energy from the new incinerator. A real breakthrough in the campaign against the incinerator happened when Free Your Voice was invited to speak at a Baltimore City Public School Board meeting. Destiny and her group prepared for weeks, and delivered a close to twenty minutes of speeches, songs, and artistic demonstrations. The group received a standing ovation, and board members agreed to come visit Curtis Bay. Ultimately, the school board backed out of their contract, triggering a chain reaction of Baltimore area organizations divesting from the incinerator project.
            But for Destiny and Free Your Voice, this was only the first step on the road to victory. The Maryland Department of Energy, known as MDE, had issued the initial permits for the incinerator, which had since expired due to the fact that no construction had begun. So Free Your Voice called on the community to protest outside the MDE offices. “Hundreds of people came out from the morning ‘til the late afternoon to protest. The plan was to drop off, one by one, sunflower shaped petitions that said a person’s basic concerns. It was going to be really annoying for them. So their response was to lock the gates.”
            But after canvassing all around Curtis Bay, a closed door wasn’t going to stop Destiny. She said, “that energy, that passion, that anger that we all felt… throughout the course of the campaign came out in that moment, and it felt amazing.” And through negotiations with MDE, nine people were allowed to drop off petitions.
           Roughly three months following the petition drop off, MDE declared the permits had expired because no work had been done at the site for over 18 months. Free Your Voices had won.
           At the same time, Destiny won the Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded to only six people, one from each inhabited continent, in the world annually. But Destiny doesn’t consider herself the only winner.  When asked about the Goldman Prize, she said she won “as a representative of the group.”
           Destiny had embodied the concept of resilience. When she began her campaign she discovered, “the hard truth is that people will underestimate you… They will think that whatever you’re passionate about is just some silly hobby. That’s what people told me. And they thought I would be gone in a year when I went to college. Surprise!”
Her message to the RPCS community was simple: activists can succeed regardless of age. She ended her speech to the Upper School by saying, “There’s hope to change the world we live in, and we all have the ability to do it."