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Local teen wins environmental award

By Michael Davis

A 14-year-old Jonesboro girl is back home today after winning a national award for her work in environmental conservation.

Having been on the West Coast for a week, Illai Kenney and her mother are back from the David Brower Youth Award ceremonies, which honor teens and young adults involved in environmental conservation and restoration projects.

Kenney is co-founder of Georgia Kids Against Pollution, a local youth environmentalist group made up of high school students in Clayton County.

Kenney and her schoolmates founded GKAP in response to the growing asthma problem after some encouragement by the Benjamin E. Mays Center, a community center in Forest Park, of which her mother is executive director.

"We've been successful in protests and we've also been successful in getting the word out," said Kenney of the group's efforts.

Along with five other recipients from across the country, age 13 to 22, Kenney was flown to California to spend a week learning about the environment at the Earth Island Institute, founded by the now-deceased Brower.

"They were very concerned about the air quality," Davis said of her daughter's group. "And the thing that got them going was that they were successful early on."

Some of GKAP's early successes included protests of the Southern Company and a trip to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa last year.

"We were talking to people in other nations to get perspectives on how they deal with the issues," said Kenney.

She also counts one of her successes as increasing the number of group members. In the three years of the group's existence, they have grown to 15 members, all from area high schools.

For winning the David Brower award, Kenney was presented with a plaque that bears the image of one of Brower's favorite nature scenes along with $3,000 cash.

Davis said that during Thursday night's ceremonies, Kenney departed from the speech they had rehearsed together and struck out on her own.

"She walked up to the stage and said, ?it's probably pretty good but I decided not to do it,'" Davis said.

Kenney said she is going to donate half of her award money to her organization and save the other half.

She said the money would go to her group's newest effort, the "Vote for Me Campaign," which will encourage parents and relatives of members to "vote for candidates that help to protect the environment," she said.