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I first met with Ann Cornell and the Cornell Douglas Foundation when I was still a relatively new Executive Director. I was excited to share Earthworks’ plans and hopeful to enlist new support for our mining reform efforts. I was thrilled when the foundation awarded us a grant to continue this campaign, which has been core to our mission since our founding in 1988, yet was not the most high-profile environmental issue at the time. 

Little did I know that several years later, the foundation would honor us with the 2020 Jean and Leslie Douglas Pearl Award. I extend my deepest gratitude to the Cornell Douglas Foundation for this valuable recognition.

The Cornell Douglas Foundation is committed to provide support to organizations like Earthworks that advocate for environmental health, justice, and sustainability. The foundation has been a trusting and reliable partner, often investing in smaller organizations addressing toxic pollution issues that are often overlooked and underfunded. 

Ann Cornell, president of the Cornell Douglas Foundation, named the award in honor of her parents in order to honor organizations that,despite challenges that often confront the recipients, they are committed to act as catalysts for positive change and determined to promote the rights of individuals to live in a world with clean water, air, and sustainable land.”

Why call it the Pearl Award? The foundation quotes Jeanne Chiang: 

“A pearl is a piece of sand that gets embedded on the inside shell of a mollusk. It creates a blister. The animal has to process this intrusion by secreting enzymes, and over time, the grain of sand becomes a pearl. Distinct from metamorphosis, where a butterfly emerges from a cocoon suddenly and magically, the pearl is conceived first in pain, laboriously worked on, and results unexpectedly in a jewel.” 

This recognition means a lot to me and my colleagues at Earthworks. I accept this award on behalf of the communities we serve that are impacted by extractive industries, whose voices must be heard. Like that grain of sand that becomes an extraordinary pearl, they persist through great suffering to build a more just, clean, and sustainable world for us all. 

We’re honored to be included with this year’s other two recipients, our friends and partners at FracTracker Alliance working hard to address environmental and health issues related to oil and gas development, and the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ), which seeks to address the root causes of poverty by seeking sustainable solutions.