Join us at 1 p.m. ET Thursday for a live Q&A on frequently asked coronavirus questions. Learn more.
by David Dudley, AARP The Magazine, September 11, 2008
Even as her family and neighbors fell sick and died, Margie Richard couldn't help thinking that those responsible would do the right thing if only they knew. The trouble was, they didn't want to listen. So the retired Louisiana schoolteacher took matters into her own hands, leading a lengthy battle against the pair of Shell petrochemical plants that bookend the African American community in Norco, a small town upriver of New Orleans amid the toxic skein of industry dubbed Cancer Alley. Shell wasn't just a health menace; it was the town's main employer, and community support largely broke along racial lines. But with a steely mix of faith and ingenuity, Richard, 64, convinced the petroleum giant both to clean up its act and to pay each homeowner in a four-block area of the plant a minimum of $80,000 to buy a house elsewhere—an offer everyone accepted. She set up a webcam to broadcast illegal venting of toxic chemicals from the plant, installed her own atmospheric monitors, and even traveled to Shell headquarters in the Netherlands to invite company executives to take a whiff of Norco's air for themselves. In the end, the company agreed to invest more than $20 million in emission reduction and relocation—a historic victory for so-called fence-line communities living with industry. In 2004 Richard became the first African American to win the $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize. "I get accused a lot of talking too much, but if you don't tell people the problem, how can you expect them to solve it?" she says. Indeed.
*The name of this award was originally the Impact Award. In 2008, the awards were renamed as the Inspire Awards.
Please leave your comment below.
You must be logged in to leave a comment.
Learn about isolation and how you can make a difference
Rate bonus on high-yield online savings account
This tool helps you identify your pills by color, shape and markings.
AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.
You are leaving AARP.org and going to the website of our trusted provider. The provider’s terms, conditions and policies apply. Please return to AARP.org to learn more about other benefits.
Your email address is now confirmed.
Manage your email preferences and tell us which topics interest you so that we can prioritize the information you receive.
Explore all that AARP has to offer.
In the next 24 hours, you will receive an email to confirm your subscription to receive emails
related to AARP volunteering. Once you confirm that subscription, you will regularly
receive communications related to AARP volunteering. In the meantime, please feel free
to search for ways to make a difference in your community at