Sacoby Wilson to Receive the APHA Damu Smith Environmental Achievement Award
Dr. Sacoby Wilson, assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, will be recognized with the Damu Smith Environmental Achievement Award at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois on Monday, November 2, 2015.
This annual award, given by the APHA Environment Section, honors an individual who has been an exemplary leader in the areas of environmental and social justice. Dr. Wilson is widely recognized for his leadership in environmental health and justice issues, both through his role as a researcher with expertise in exposure science, air pollution monitoring and the role of the built environment in health outcomes, and as an advocate for communities fighting for environmental, social and economic justice. Dr. Wilson utilizes community-based participatory research (CBPR) methods in his work to build community capacity to address environmental health and justice issues. His work has included the development of and participation in partnerships with community-based organizations, environmental advocacy groups, health practitioners, and policymakers (federal, state, and local government) to reduce local contamination, improve environmental quality, and enhance community health and sustainability. He was invited by the White House in September 2015 to participate in their Citizen Science Forum and Workshop: “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People,” which focused on building capacity for communities to be involved in solving complex real-world problems. He is also a Board member for Community Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH) and a current member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) for the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Dr. Wilson has partnered with communities in North and South Carolina, Maryland, Washington, DC and Delaware to conduct research and build coalitions to confront and address threats to environmental health that disproportionately impact people of color and low-income communities. His recent work includes a project to map the distribution of environmental hazards and pollution-intensive facilities for each census tract and county in Maryland and linking this with demographic data on race, ethnicity, income, education, and health care access to identify groups impacted by the “double disparity” of being overburdened by environmental hazards and underserved by health promoting resources.
Dr. Wilson believes that science must focus on action to have an impact. “Growing up near a sewage treatment plant, a concrete plant, an oil storage facility, and a nuclear power plant naturally piqued my interest in environmental justice issues,” he explains. “I believe that science can be a powerful tool that can ‘inpower’ impacted citizens to use data with community organizing and civic engagement to address social ills. I can’t bring power to overburdened communities, but I can help them connect to the power that they already have, reconnect them to a spirit of collective action. I am honored to receive the Damu Smith award because he was an advocate, activist, and icon of the environmental justice movement.”
Damu Smith, an internationally known peace and civil rights activist from Washington, DC, was one of preeminent voices of the environmental justice movement. Smith coordinated the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, which produced the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice, led to the signing of the Executive Order on Environmental Justice by President Clinton, and the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Justice. As founder of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, Mr. Smith fought against environmental racism in the South and helped communities win environmental justice victories in Louisiana, including a region known as Cancer Alley, a petrochemical corridor along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Mr. Smith was a tireless advocate for peace as a key leader in the anti-Apartheid movement, the founder of Black Voices for Peace, and an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq and police brutality in Washington, DC. He died in 2006 of colon cancer at age 54.