Lifelong Louisiana resident, retired teacher, and grassroots activist Sharon Lavigne was awarded the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize for her victorious and continued environmental justice activism in “Cancer Alley.” Lavigne, founder of the faith-based advocacy organization RISE St. James, successfully blocked the construction of a $1.25 billion plastics manufacturing plant in St. James Parish in 2019 and is continuing the campaign to oppose a $9.4 billion complex proposed by Formosa Plastics. Lavigne sees her work as intertwined with the larger Black Lives Matter movement.

“They’re trying to make our area a sacrifice zone,” she told Bloomberg of the petrochemical industry and state and local officials who support it. “They’re killing Black people with guns and stuff, and with us, they’re killing us with poison in the air and in our water. It’s still a killing.”

Lavigne was awarded what is often described as the “Green Nobel” for North America; winners in other regions were honored for their work on a range of issues including deforestation, coal power plants, and toxic pollution. “I’m doing this to save our community. I’m doing this to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I wasn’t looking for recognition,” Lavigne told the New Orleans Advocate. “I had no idea people could win awards for this.” (Lavigne: E&E $, The Advocate, Bloomberg $, Louisiana Illuminator, The Guardian, Insider, National Catholic Reporter, Insider; Other winners: Thomson Reuters Foundation)