River Hero Remarks
by Casi (kc) Callaway, Executive Director & Baykeeper
I was so proud to accept the River Hero award from my colleagues at River Network and couldn’t have been more blown away that Marc Yaggi, Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director, flew to Mobile for the sole purpose of introducing me to the crowd of about 400. It was an incredible honor to receive this award with my family, staff, board and friends in the audience.
Below you will find the acceptance speech I prepared. You can CLICK HERE to listen to what I actually said as is typical of speeches and me. The most important point I hope you see in both speeches is that working together is the only way we’re going to make a difference in our communities. We all have great challenges, but we can all be incredible allies for each other. Thanks to all who nominated me and supported me to this place.
Pay attention to the things that stop you in your tracks. And pay attention to who is there with you when you get stopped.
Some of you could hear the opening remarks about my childhood. I grew up with bays, beaches, rivers & hot glorious sunshine. When I went off to college, I met a crowd of people who weren’t like me that talked about the Bay and beaches as something you could actually lose. They also taught me that our environment was something you could fight for to make sure your cutest 8 and a half year old will get to enjoy, celebrate and love the same way I did.
I went with these incredible people to North Carolina Threshold conference Halloween 1989 and I listened to Gaylord Nelson and heard Owen Byrd talk about organizing colleges to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Earth Day.
And then I stopped, stayed and listened to him again as he repeated the session.
That day changed my life, centered me into an always rewarding yet challenging career path, and I haven’t looked back since. I started working with Clean Water Action in DC where I learned the value of the ask and the power in numbers from some of the smartest fundraisers and lobbyists in the country.
A rough day in DC led me to an extreme need to talk to someone. I got home, stopped, picked up the phone and was actually surprised when my father answered. His response to my stress was love, support and “I’ll buy you a plane ticket” – whatever it takes to get you home.
And home was a blessing I didn’t know I needed, but again I haven't looked back. I was the first staff member at Mobile Baykeeper in 1998 and I had a lot to learn.
At each major issue we tackled, there was always a stop and a recognition that this will change Mobile Baykeeper and who I am. There was always someone who made me absolutely sure we were headed in the right direction and people who inspired me to keep fighting. I’ll never forget Rick Dove, Neuse Riverkeeper, reminding me that my job was to speak for Mobile Bay and someone else had the job of speaking for jobs.
In 2010, I had the biggest stop – the BP Oil Disaster. Mobile Baykeeper had an incredible staff of four who knew little about the oil and gas industry, but we were blessed to have an amazing team of allies worldwide in Waterkeeper Alliance and with local organizations across the Gulf Coast. Working together about 20 hours a day, six days a week, we learned.
We now focus mostly on restoration as a solution to BP’s bad behavior and that’s what I want to finish on today - solutions. They are rarely one size fits all. More often there are a lot of ways to solve the problem.
The single most important basis of every positive step in the right direction is the people you work with to find those solutions. Under no circumstances do I accept this great reward as an individual. I have an incredible family, a husband who tells our son that I’m saving the Bay when I’m not home, an incredible son who can tell you better than most adults why stormwater is bad and how when people stop littering there will be world peace.
I have a board of directors who trusts me and empowers us to fight some of the scariest battles imaginable – especially in the deep south. I have a staff – past and present – #teamkillingit - who live for what we do and are willing to work long hours, getting dirty as well as suffer the attacks from folks who don’t understand or don’t like our stances. I have a large community of partner organizations here locally and nationally through all of you I’ve met over the last few days and then through my Incredible Waterkeeper family – without whom I wouldn’t be here today.
What we have learned here at River Rally – Mobile is that we must be more inclusive – we have to stop and really think about who is at the table and who is missing. We have a challenging fight on our hands to change more than 200 years of bad behavior. If we’re going to win we have to focus our energy, together in the right direction – on the pollution and finding a solution to it.
I stand proudly on this stage with these amazing River Heroes and all of those who came before me. We keep seeing examples of folks who are making our world a better place and I’m grateful for your support and acknowledgement of our work.
I want to close with quotes from Native Alabamian Helen Keller --
"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much."
Thanks to all of you who supported me to this great honor.