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.  

When the "Me Too" movement exploded a few years ago, the ubiquitousness of women's sexual harassment and assault experiences became painfully clear. What hasn't always been as clear is role that less overt, more subtle creepiness plays in making women feel uncomfortable or unsafe as they move through the world, often starting from a young age.

Thankfully—and unfortunately—a viral video from a teen TikToker illustrates exactly what that looks like in real-time when a man came and sat down with her while she was doing a live video. He asked if the chair at her table was taken, and she said no, thinking he wanted to take it to another table. Instead, he sat down and started talking to her. You can see in her face and in her responses that she's weirded out, though she's trying not to appear rude or paranoid.

The teen said in a separate TikTok video that the man appeared to be in his 30s. Definitely too old to be pulling up a chair with someone so young who is sitting by herself, and definitely old enough to recognize that she was uncomfortable with the situation.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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