Destrehan resident covers feet and makes beds in Africa

September 24, 2008 at 8:44 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Activist Margie Eugene-Richard is on a mission from God to fight injustice. That mission has taken
her around the world.
Shonna Riggs/Herald Guide
Activist Margie Eugene-Richard is on a mission from God to fight injustice. That mission has taken her around the world.
Destrehan resident and activist Margie Eugene-Richard spent the last 17 days delivering mattresses and passing out flip-flops to barefoot orphans who live in roofless shelters without walls and sleep on concrete slabs in Uganda, Africa.

“It's what God called me to do,” Eugene-Richard said. “And when God gives me a mission, I act on it.”

The vibrant 66-year-old didn't expect her life to take the path that it has. In fact, Eugene-Richard started out as a public school teacher, but has since become a public servant and activist fighting for injustices all around her.

“Twenty-eight years ago, I was a St. Charles Parish school teacher, but when Shell Oil Refineries’ emissions began making people in my community and family get sick, I fought back,” Eugene-Richard said.  “I wasn't intimidated to stand up for what was right.”

Eugene-Richard then began a vigilant campaign against the oil refinery in Norco - and won.

“I'm just one person, but one voice can make a difference. I've proven that,” she said. “No one could believe that I had dared to stand up against the refinery that way.”

In 2000, thanks largely to Eugene-Richard's efforts, Shell agreed to reduce its emissions by 30 percent and improve its emergency evacuation routes. Shell also agreed to pay voluntary relocation costs for residents who lived in her community on the two streets closest to the plant.

Eugene-Richard, along with other concerned citizens, had a meeting with Shell and secured a $5 million community development fund and full relocation for all four Old Diamond streets, because two streets alone weren't enough in her opinion.

Since the agreement was brokered in 2002, Shell has bought about 200 of the 225 lots at a minimum price of $80,000 per lot. Author Ronnie Greene detailed all of Eugene-Richard’s efforts in his book called “Night Fire.”
“I wasn't popular in those days,” she said. “There were even threats made against me.”

Eugene-Richard says standing up for something that isn't popular always comes with a price.
“Once I stood up against the refinery, my daughter, who worked for Shell as one of their chemists, lost her job,” she said. “But we were prepared for all of those things. We knew it would be coming.”

The late Peter Jennings, of the nationally syndicated news program World News Tonight, selected Eugene-Richard as the ABC News Person of the Week in 2004.

“I've traveled all over the country speaking up for injustice as a whole,” Eugene-Richard said. “Although I've had news articles written about me, from journalists as far away as Barbados, I don't do this for the recognition. If I'm asked to help speak out against injustice, I will.”

Eugene-Richard says that her latest mission was to travel to Uganda and to serve the more than 4,000 children who are orphans in the country.

“With all of the education and technology we have, together we can make a difference,” she said. “My grandson and I ministered to the orphans and will continue to share their stories with all of those we can.”

Eugene-Richard works as a public speaker and she believes it's a spiritual calling.

“When I came back from Africa, I wrote this poem,” she recalled. "The first few words go like this: I looked around Africa, and what did I see, faces like you, faces like me.”
Eugene-Richard believes we're all the same, although our struggles may be different.

“I was born free, I can think free, I am free, and I love America,” she said. “I've been to other countries and I understand the importance of being born free.”
Eugene-Richard's life is now the subject of two books about her 15 year  struggle to bring justice to her community with her fight against Shell Oil Refinery.

In 2004, Eugene-Richard received proclamations from New Orleans  Mayor Ray Nagin and the St. Charles Parish Council, and also received the Goldman Award,  a cash prize of $125,000, an award from Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and an accommodation from former Vice President Al Gore.
She is also the subject of numerous news and magazine articles.

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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