Building people power for
climate & energy justice

The John O. Blackburn Award

blackburn-cropNC WARN gives the John O. Blackburn award to individuals who have devoted their lives to social and environmental justice. The award is named for Dr. John Blackburn, former Duke University chancellor and chair of the Duke economics department. After retiring, Dr. Blackburn served as NC WARN’s volunteer technical advisor for over five years before dying unexpectedly on January 16, 2011. Remembrances of Dr. Blackburn and links to the reports he wrote for us can be found here.

In December 2010, we presented John with a special award for his dedicated and extraordinary service toward a clean-energy future and a better world. Since then, we have presented an award in his name to the following recipients.

Dr. Steve Wing — October 2016

steve-wingAt our Member Assembly in October 2016, we presented the Blackburn award to Dr. Steve Wing, a UNC epidemiologist, for his years of dedicated work in the field of environmental justice.

He is a foremost expert on radiation health effects and on health damage to people living near hog farms. He led the team at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1999 that published a correction of earlier industry-fueled claims that nobody was harmed by the Three-Mile Island nuclear disaster, and was attacked by the nuclear industry for doing so.

He spoke out forcefully against allowing North Carolina to become a nuclear waste dumping ground and wrote a report for NC WARN in 2003 on the safety risks of the Shearon Harris nuclear plant. Steve went to Fukushima after the nuclear disaster there and took a controversial position when he courageously said that, although some people would be harmed by staying in their homes in Fukushima, the harm was — statistically speaking — less than that done to them by forcing them to leave their ancestral homes and culture. The video of Steve’s Fukushima speech can be viewed here.

Steve is a cofounder and long-time anchor of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. He is the primary author of that organization’s Position Statement on Climate Change, which reads, in part: “We are not fighting for a new order that reduces greenhouse emissions but leaves other injustices in place. NCEJN especially opposes reducing greenhouse gases in ways that magnify existing environmental injustices… [We] recognize that environmental injustice itself is a driving force behind climate change: by polluting low-income communities instead of their own, the wealthy have less incentive to reduce pollution.”

In presenting the award, NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren said: “One of the strongest lessons I got from Steve Wing was, when you’re dealing with noxious facilities and other impacts on community, the question is: Who gets to decide? Steve is one who made that a key theme of his career. In the long struggle for a more just society, there is no one better to have on your side than Steve Wing. For Steve, we need to keep learning how to work together amid enormous challenges, we have to exercise our courage, we have to demand justice on every single front and we have to stay at it. Steve has pointed out the way for us — the way of respect, integrity and courage. Our job is to build on the lessons from Steve Wing.”

Read Jim’s entire remarks here or watch the video of the presentation.

Dr. Wing’s extended battle with cancer ended on November 9, 2016. Read an obituary from the UNC School of Public Health. The National Institutes of Health also shared this remembrance.

JohnsonsJoyce Johnson and Rev. Nelson Johnson — December 2015

At our annual meeting in December 2015, we presented the John O. Blackburn Award to Joyce Johnson and Rev. Nelson Johnson in recognition of their lifelong dedication to social justice. The Johnsons operate Beloved Community Center in Greensboro and Rev. Johnson is pastor of Faith Community Church there.

The Johnsons share John Blackburn’s humility, deep humanity and determination. They have dedicated their entire lives to creating a better world. They were out front on problems between the police and the community years before video recordings confirmed the appalling extent of those problems. They have been strong voices for environmental justice.

We are grateful that they have the courage to stand with controversial allies such as NC WARN. We have partnered with the Johnsons on our Solar Freedom project, the test case that challenged the state’s ban on third-party sales of solar, and on our Emergency Climate Response, which called on NC Attorney General Roy Cooper to investigate Duke Energy’s corporate charter. It has been a great honor to work with the Johnsons on these and other efforts.

Alice Loyd — December 2014

Alice is a former NC WARN board chair and former executive director of North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, a program of the NC Council of Churches that educates and activates the faith community on climate change.

Three Blackburn award winners, left to right: Beth Henry (2012), Alice Loyd (2014) and Pat Moore (2013).

Three Blackburn award winners, left to right: Beth Henry (2012), Alice Loyd (2014) and Pat Moore (2013).

Alice worked with NC WARN to form a collaborative called the Grassroots Energy Alliance with the vision of marrying social justice values with environmental sustainability through a program of green jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy. To further that program we approached Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the NAACP, and together developed a broad coalition called the Black, Brown, and Green Alliance which put on a major green jobs conference in Durham. Alice did the lion’s share of the work to organize the conference.

On the NC WARN board, Alice worked hard to shepherd the organization through a process of Dismantling Racism Training toward our goal of deepening our anti-racist work.

Alice is also a talented poet, writer and gardener, but perhaps her greatest talent is for speaking truth to power. NC Utilities Chairman Ed Finley has had his ears pinned back by Alice, in her polite but powerful way, more times than he would wish to recall.

Pat Moore — December 2013

Pat Moore and her husband John are strong social justice activists and philanthropists. They helped start and make possible Moore Place, an apartment complex and treatment center for the chronically homeless in Charlotte. They slept out with the homeless in their protests. They were regular participants in Occupy Charlotte. And they helped form the United Religions Initiative which has brought together Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others for dialog and mutual support.

Pat has been arrested in Charlotte for protesting Duke Energy’s Cliffside coal plant and Bank of America’s financing of coal plants and in Washington, DC for protesting mountaintop removal coal mining and the Keystone XL pipeline. She has spoken out repeatedly and movingly at public hearings.

Beth Henry — December 2012

Beth Henry, a retired Charlotte attorney, has worked long and hard for NC WARN as a board member, organizer of protests at Duke Energy’s annual shareholder meetings, testifier at public hearings and participant in street theater (she has portrayed Duke Energy in two “toxic wedding” protests, donning a wedding gown to marry first Gov. Pat McCrory and later Piedmont Natural Gas). Her keynote speech at the 2012 annual meeting was a moving metaphor likening the metamorphosis of monarch butterflies to the change now needed in ourselves and our society.