The Fighter: 2022 Laetare Medalist Sharon Lavigne

The Fighter: 2022 Laetare Medalist Sharon Lavigne

Sharon Lavigne is the founder and director of Rise St. James — a faith-based grassroots organization fighting for environmental justice in St. James Parish, Louisiana. A retired special education teacher, she has lived her entire life in St. James Parish and has watched the region transform from idyllic farmland into an embattled community living in the shadow of the petrochemical industry and plagued by industrial pollution.

Located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, St. James Parish is in the midst of an area nicknamed Cancer Alley, an 85-mile stretch of land along the Mississippi River that has more than 150 petrochemical plants and refineries. Thirty-two of those plants are in St. James Parish alone and are highly concentrated in districts in which the majority of residents are both Black and lower income.

“Why would they put the plant over here? Because they knew that people weren’t going to speak up,” Lavigne said. “And they were right. The people weren’t going to speak up. That’s when God touched me and told me to fight — and that’s what I did.”

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