Damu Smith, 54, founder of Black Voices for Peace and executive director of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, died of colon cancer on May 6, 2006, in Washington, D.C.
For more than 30 years, Smith was a champion who brought “white” social justice causes—such as the environment, nuclear weapons, and peace—to the African-American community, and “African-American” causes—such as gun violence, police brutality, racism, and political repression—to the white community. He led the environmental justice campaign for the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice and organized “toxic tours” in Louisiana for Greenpeace USA. He was director of the Washington Office on Africa during the anti-apartheid campaigns and worked with the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice, as well as served on the staff of the American Friends Service Committee.
During his yearlong struggle with cancer, a number of fundraisers were held to assist Smith and his family with medical expenses. “Damu [was] one of the 164 million people in the U.S. that have no or inadequate health insurance,” wrote religion columnist Barbara Reynolds. “Here [was] one of the hardest working activists on behalf of others’ health but [he did] not have adequate funds to provide for his own care.”