Harlem’s WE-ACT President Peggy Shepard Awarded With The National Order Of Merit By France

October 1, 2021

Peggy Shepard began her journalistic career as the first African-American field reporter at the Indianapolis News. She moved to New York City in 1971, and took on several successive jobs at the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

In 1988, disturbed by the foul odors emitted by the Hudson River sewage treatment plant, she helped organize acts of civil disobedience. Together with six other organizers, the “sewage seven”, she distributed gas masks and blocked traffic near the plant. Her activist group was quickly arrested by the police.

Peggy Shepard continued to mobilize civil society support by co-founding WE ACT For Environmental Justice (WE ACT) in 1988. The group’s mission is to ensure that ethnic and economic minorities participate in creating a healthy and fair environment through education, research, and political engagement.

In 1988, WE ACT sued New York City over its sewage treatment, leading to an unprecedented victory four years later. In 1992, the Mayor of New York City created a $55 million odor control system for the West Harlem community.

Peggy Shepard turned this small group of committed volunteers into a professional environmental organization, whose influence extended from northern Manhattan to the professional level.

She enlisted the support of political leaders and the Transit Workers Union to lead an information campaign encouraging the city to make its energy transition in the transportation sector. In 2006, Peggy Shepard and WE ACT supported legislation to ban cars from Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City.

She is present on all fronts in the arena of environmental activism. To improve the environmental health of children in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, Peggy Shepard partners with the academic community through Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Conservation Health, where she conducts primary research. She serves on the board of the New York League of Conservation Voters and oversees a project sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor fine particulate matter in northern Manhattan.

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WE ACT has grown from an abandoned Harlem building to a center for modern ecology, implementing community-based environmental health programs and research projects, environmental education, and youth outreach. The organization collaborates with scientists, labor leaders, and environmental and public health organizations.

Peggy Shepard’s activism and commitment to the environment have earned her numerous awards and honors. In 2007, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded WE ACT a $100,000 grant for its work to protect the environment at the local level. This program supports local communities in their efforts to identify sources of pollution. In 2007, the Governor of the State of New York presented her with the New York State Women of Excellence Award for her contributions to local communities in New York City.

In addition to her organization We ACT, Peggy Shepard is actively involved in a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund, Earth Day NY, the NYC Mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Board, the NYC Waterfront Management Advisory Board, and the National Children’s Study Advisory Committee to the National Institutes of Health.

Among America’s renowned and influential activists, the priorities of Peggy Shepard and her organization, We ACT, align closely with France’s political and environmental priorities. France’s recognition of Ms. Shepard’s role in the fight for environmental protection and environmental equality comes a reward for her exemplary actions in support of our shared priorities. This recognition also contributes to strengthening and developing Franco-American ties in what are now global struggles reports our source.

Photo credit: 1-5) Peggy Shephard.

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