LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity has awarded the 2020 “Rose Braz Award for Bold Activism” to Nalleli Cobo.
Cobo is an environmental justice activist who has been fighting against powerful polluters since she was nine years old. Growing up in South-Central Los Angeles, she lived across from an oil well that was making her and others in her community sick. Cobo started knocking on doors with her mother and eventually mobilized the People Not Pozos (People Not Wells) campaign that helped get the site shut down.
But Cobo didn’t stop there. At age 13 she appeared in a video appealing to Pope Francis to ensure that the AllenCo site, which is owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, stayed permanently closed.
Broadening her fight to other contaminated communities, Cobo became a leading activist in Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND-L.A.), pushing for a 2,500-foot buffer between communities and oil and gas wells. She’s also a cofounder of the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition, which, along with the Center and Youth for Environmental Justice, sued the city for environmental discrimination.
“Whether standing up to Big Oil or appealing directly to the Pope, Nalleli shows all of us that we do have the power to change our world,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “She never accepted that an oil company had the right to make her sick or that some communities are worth poisoning. She proves that one determined voice can become a force for environmental justice.”
Cobo is now a key player in the environmental justice movement. She helped organize, and appeared on posters for, last year’s Youth Climate Strike, marching alongside another young activist, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. She has been a featured speaker at events including the Women’s March in Los Angeles and Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.
Earlier this year Cobo appeared at a Los Angeles rally with Jane Fonda, Mark Ruffalo and others. It was there that her fellow activists learned of her latest fight. Cobo announced that she has been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer that has forced her to take a leave of absence from her freshman year at Whittier College.
“I have no doubt Nalleli’s bringing the same undaunted spirit and courage to this very personal struggle that she has to her activism,” said Suckling. “As she’s supported her community and the environmental justice movement, we’re now supporting her and pulling for her quick and full recovery. Even in times of hardship, Nalleli continues to inspire all of us working for a cleaner, healthier, fairer world.”
Cobo responded to the award with gratitude and optimism. “It is truly an honor to be this year’s recipient of the Rose Braz Award for Bold Activism,” she said. “I’m at a loss for words. This year has been very difficult, and I take this award with great love and hope that things are looking up.”
The Rose Braz award consists of a handcrafted letterpress print by Roger Peet of Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative in Portland, Ore., and a $1,000 cash prize. The print depicts brown pelicans, a recovered endangered species and Braz’s favorite animal, breaking through a barrier wall.