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Alabama's Anti-Poison Powerhouse

Just when you think our younger generation is distracted by Instagram, “Pretty Little Liars” and Miley Cyrus, the world turns itself upside down, shakes itself around and out comes Cece Durden.

Cece is a 17-year-old powerhouse who refuses to sit back and let her community in Alabama’s Black Belt risk be poisoned by toxic coal ash pollution. Until recently, Cece knew nothing of the coal ash being stored at the Arrowhead Landfill, threatening the health and welfare of her neighbors, herself and her classmates in the tiny hamlet of Uniontown. But her fighting spirit took over once she discovered that coal ash waste from the massive spill in 2008 at the Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in Kingston, TN—the second largest environmental disaster in U.S. history—was being dumped in her backyard.

Since then, she has spoken across the county at meetings and even at a press conference in an effort to not just rid Uniontown of coal ash contamination and other environmental threats but to engage young people to join her in this movement to secure healthy air and clean water for all. As Sierra Club’s Sarah Hodgdon notes in her piece on Cece on Treehugger last month:

Cece is “passionate about recruiting other young people to protect the community from arsenic and other heavy metals.”

Cece is building a website with other young activists to raise awareness of Uniontown’s pollution problems and show other young people that they can stand up and protect their community and their waters.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Cece comes from Selma, the birthplace of Coretta Scott King and the battleground of the civil rights movement. Demanding justice is in her blood. She has seen already that the fight for this justice is neither fast nor easy—nor can it be done alone. She has taken on the disagreeable and often intractable Alabama Department of Environmental Management with a tenacity and commitment that is unparalleled.

With an army of young folks standing with her, how can she lose?