Damu Smith was a tireless advocate for the environment, public health and social justice.
The environmental justice community lost a leading light last week when activist Damu Smith succumbed to colon cancer at the age of 53. Smith had worked tirelessly as a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace throughout the 1990s, and in 2001 formed the nonprofit Black Voices for Peace in order to mobilize African Americans against U.S. military aggression in Iraq and for better education, housing, jobs and healthcare on the homefront.
In the 1980s, Smith campaigned successfully for the establishment of a national holiday recognizing the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. During his tenure at Greenpeace, which began in 1991, Smith coordinated a landmark tour of 40 American towns and cities where the health of poor African Americans has been jeopardized by the irresponsible dumping of toxic chemicals by corporations. In 1999, he organized the historic First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. And shortly before leaving Greenpeace, Smith helped raise awareness about high rates of cancer among African Americans by bringing celebrities and media to witness the impacts of toxic pollution in an industrial stretch of southern Louisiana near New Orleans dubbed "Cancer Alley" by activists.
“Damu Smith was one of the most motivated and committed activists that Greenpeace has ever known," Greenpeace Executive Director John Passacantando told reporters last week. "This is a monumental loss for so many movements and organizations. He touched the lives of so many, and will no doubt continue to inspire even more,” Passacantando added.