When these teens took on Baltimore over a garbage idea, the city actually listened.
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Starbucks Upstanders

What do you do with your free time? 17-year-old Destiny Watford spends hers saving her neighborhood.

Destiny lives in Baltimore, a city where more people die from air pollution than homicide — and the homicide rate is nothing to scoff at.

This isn’t an exaggeration; it’s a reality. And the people who live there deal with it every day.


Why is the air pollution so bad? Well, Curtis Bay — a neighborhood in Baltimore — is home to a coal export terminal, the nation’s largest medical waste facility, and an animal rendering plant, to name a few reasons.

All images via Starbucks, used with permission.

In 2012, Destiny learned about a plan to build the country’s largest trash-burning incinerator in Curtis Bay just a mile from her school.

Destiny looked around at her neighborhood, polluted by factory after factory, and decided she’d had enough.

Watch Destiny's full story:

These students banded together and stopped what would have been the nation's largest trash incinerator from being built just a mile away from their school. A Starbucks original series.

Posted by Upworthy on Friday, September 23, 2016

You may wonder, how could the country so completely disregard the health of these residents?

There's a reason Curtis Bay and communities like it are often the proposed sites for these types of facilities (ahem, environmental racism). A study published in Environmental Research Letters revealed that factories using toxic substances and waste plants are usually found in poor neighborhoods — and those neighborhoods are often predominantly made up of people of color.

The phenomenon is nothing new. History has shown time and time again that poor neighborhoods are often used as dumping grounds. See the Flint water crisis.

The communities being affected often don’t have a voice to fight against this injustice. That’s why Destiny is so special.

Determined to stop the incinerator from invading their neighborhood, Destiny and her classmates started a movement.

"Curtis Bay is my home," explained Destiny. "I grew up here. I live here. My family lives here. My friends live here. If a development like this is happening that would be putting our lives at risk, I couldn't ignore it."

She and her peers started Free Your Voice, an organization aimed at stopping the development of the incinerator.

They found out that the Baltimore City Public School System would be purchasing energy from the incinerator and challenged that decision. They won — the school board changed its decision and backed out of the contract. 21 other businesses followed suit.

Then, something even bigger happened.

"We learned that the incinerator’s permit had expired," Destiny said. "This was a huge opportunity for us because with an expired permit, you can’t construct. But it would not matter unless the Maryland Department of the Environment said publicly, 'Your permits are expired.' Which they hadn’t."

Free Your Voice organized protests, with people standing outside late into the night, urging the department to enforce the law and stop the incinerator.

It took months, but eventually the state did declare that the permit was expired, effectively halting all operations.

The community united, and their unified, persistent voice was loud enough to be heard.

Thanks to Destiny and her peers, the future of Curtis Bay — and its air — is clearer.

And Destiny led the charge. Her passion for her community inspired positive change. If more communities follow suit, hopefully together, they can force the tide to change.  

Courtesy of Creative Commons
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After years of service as a military nurse in the naval Marine Corps, Los Angeles, California-resident Rhonda Jackson became one of the 37,000 retired veterans in the U.S. who are currently experiencing homelessness — roughly eight percent of the entire homeless population.

"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

"I was entered into a lottery and I just said to myself, 'Okay, this is going to work out,'" Jackson said. "The next thing I knew, I had won the lottery — in more ways than one."

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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Virginia is poised to become the 23rd U.S. state—and first state in the South—to ban the death penalty after lawmakers on Monday approved legislation prohibiting the practice.

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Courtesy of Creative Commons
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After years of service as a military nurse in the naval Marine Corps, Los Angeles, California-resident Rhonda Jackson became one of the 37,000 retired veterans in the U.S. who are currently experiencing homelessness — roughly eight percent of the entire homeless population.

"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

"I was entered into a lottery and I just said to myself, 'Okay, this is going to work out,'" Jackson said. "The next thing I knew, I had won the lottery — in more ways than one."

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Sumo Citrus
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Don Bay has been in the citrus business for over 50 years now, and according to him, his most recent growing endeavor has been the most challenging. Alongside his son Darren and grandson Luke, Don cultivates Sumo Citrus®, one of the most difficult fruits to grow. The Bay family runs San Joaquin Growers Ranch in Porterville, California, one of the farms where the fruit is grown in the United States.

Sumo Citrus was originally developed in Japan, and is an extraordinary hybrid of mandarin, pomelo and navel oranges.

The fruit is temperamental, and it can take time to get a thriving crop. The trees require year-round care, and it takes five years from seed to fruit until they're ready for harvest. Thanks to expert citrus growers like the Bay family though, Sumo Citrus have flourished in California. Don and his son Darren worked together through trial and error to perfect their crop of Sumo Citrus. Darren is now an expert on cultivating this famously temperamental fruit, and his son Luke is learning from him every step of the way.

Don, Darren and Luke BayAll photos courtesy of Sumo Citrus

"Luke's been involved as early as he could come out," Darren said in a YouTube video.

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Just over a month after passing the grim milestone of 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, the United States has surpassed another one. As of today, more than half a million Americans have been lost to the virus that's held the world in a pandemic holding pattern for almost a year. It's a number that seemed unfathomable even six months ago, and yet here we are.

Despite increasing vaccine rollouts allowing us to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the loss we've experienced is immense. Having a president who not only understands loss on a personal level—having endured the tragic loss of his wife and baby daughter earlier in life and the death of his son just six years ago—but who conveys with compassion the grief of the nation as we mark this milestone is a comforting change.

Tonight, the White House honored the 500,000+ lives lost with a display of 500 candles lining the steps of the building, with each candle representing 1000 Americans. The president and first lady, along with the vice president and second gentleman, held a memorial moment of silence outside the South Portico as a military band played "Amazing Grace."

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