Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

2009

Beverly Wright

A leading scholar on and advocate for environmental justice, Beverly Wright is honored with the Heinz Award for her work on behalf of communities, especially those in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley."

As head of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, she has been tackling issues of environmental racism and working to raise the profile of environmental issues in poor and minority communities nationwide.

Since Hurricane Katrina, much of her work at the Deep South Center has focused on research, policy and community outreach as well as assistance and education of displaced African-American residents of New Orleans. Dr. Wright, who is a professor of sociology, lost her own home to Katrina and has been an advocate of the safe return of residents, addressing the critical issues of health and environmental restoration and monitoring fairness as it relates to standards of clean up.

After 200 sites around the city identified elevated lead and arsenic levels, Dr. Wright forged a unique partnership with the U.S. Steelworkers to launch a proactive pilot neighborhood clean-up project. The project, called A Safe Way Back Home, trained more than 60 small businesses and contractors in hazardous waste removal, mold remediation and health and safety methods, and trained hundreds of volunteers from around the country to assist community residents in the clean-up and return to their devastated homes.

As the founding director of one of the first university-based environmental justice organizations, Dr. Wright has been at the forefront of the movement.  She had an early leadership role in forging national policy to eliminate disparities involving environmental concerns and has remained steadfast in the movement's leadership since day one.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.

Speech

Words cannot express my gratitude to the Heinz Family Foundation and its Award Committee for this honor.  The fact that, for the first time, 10 recipients are being honored this year for their work related to environmental sustainability is significant in this era of climate change awareness.  I am also elated to be a part of this magnificent group of people who are committed to the sustainability of our planet.  Most of all however, I thank the Heinz Foundation for lifting up the struggles of people attempting to survive the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.  Katrina gave climate change a human face in America. By recognizing my work, you lift up our struggle and draw at10tion to climate change and its impacts on vulnerable populations around the world.

While this recognition has come to me, it is the support of my staff and collaboration with many non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, community groups, individuals and especially the United Steelworkers that have made this night possible.

I am also grateful to the Environmental Justice community for their support and I especially thank my family and friends who make up my village, who over the years have supported me and my daughters, Danielle and Brigette, who never complained when Mom was away from home caring for other people.

Lastly, I would like to thank my parents, Morris and Evelyn Bates, now deceased, for teaching me to love God, family and community, and by example, to work for social and economic justice.

It will take an environmentally educated populace to sustain this planet.

The struggle continues.

Beverly Wright
Beverly Wright