Thursday, February 9, 2012

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo at The Writer's Center

By Sunil Freeman

A few months ago, while contacting authors scheduled to read at The Writer’s Center, I learned that the publication date had been pushed back for Charlene Smith’s forthcoming book, Mandela and America, We were soon able to reschedule her reading, originally scheduled for February 19, to July 15,. (That’s three days before Mandela’s 94th birthday.) The change in plans led to some very good news when Charlene recommended that we contact Marsha Coleman-Adebayo to speak in her place at 2:00 p.m. on February 19.

We’re very excited about the upcoming program. Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, author of No Fear: A Whistleblower’s Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA (Chicago Review Press), is also the founder of the No Fear Coalition, a group of civil rights and whistleblower organizations working to increase legislative protections for federal employees.

No Fear describes Dr. Coleman-Adebayo’s experiences at EPA and her work with vanadium mine workers in South Africa when she served as the liaison to the White House on the Gore-Mbeki Commission. The Commission was established during the Clinton administration after the fall of apartheid. Coleman-Adebayo discovered that African miners were being exposed to lethal vanadium dust, but her efforts to investigate the crisis were stifled and she became a target of personal abuse.

The resulting conflict carries echoes of earlier struggles. Writing in Time Magazine, Jack White commented: “Inside Marsha Coleman-Adebayo there's a streak of Rosa Parks.” The toxic mix of deadly pollutants and official indifference also calls to mind the story of Erin Brockovich. Parallels to that story may be furthered by a film Danny Glover is working to produce.

It was a long fight, but in 2000 Dr. Coleman-Adebayo won an historic lawsuit against the EPA on the basis of race, sex, color discrimination, and a hostile work environment. She testified before Congress twice, leading to passage of the No Fear Act to protect whistleblowers, The Act, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate, was signed into law by President George W. Bush. It was the first civil rights law in the U.S. in this century.

Coleman-Adebayo’s work has been widely recognized. The National Whistleblower Center has described her as one of the most influential “truth-tellers” in the country. The Project on Government Oversight inducted her into the Hall of Fame in 2007. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference recognized Dr. Coleman-Adebayo’s leadership in the civil rights movement at its 50th anniversary gala in Atlanta, Georgia and she has received an award for Outstanding Commitment to Global Health and Development from Harvard University. Several interviews are available online, including one with Tavis Smiley and one on Radio Ecoshock, which will air February 14 on WPFW, 89.3 FM.

The program is free and open to the public. It begins at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, February 19, here at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo’s talk, which will include a brief video presentation, will be followed by a question and answer session, a reception and book signing.

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