The 100 Most Influential People of 2021
Tania—contrasto/Redux
September 15, 2021 7:16 AM EDT

A single mother with no formal training discovers a deadly water contamination and takes action. Think you’ve heard this story before? Think again. This is the story of Phyllis Omido, and she is my hero.

I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is to try and move industrial mountains, to take on a morally imperative cause despite all the roadblocks and obstacles in the way. Before she was an award-winning environmental activist and the executive director of the Center for Justice Governance and Environmental Action, Phyllis Omido was a single mother working at a lead-smelting plant in Mombasa, Kenya. When she learned that her baby boy, like others in her area, had been affected by lead poisoning, she refused to be silenced—despite pressure from both her employer and her government. Fueled by a fierce desire to protect her son and all of the children in her village, Phyllis quit her job and led community efforts to close the plant.

Over the course of a 12-year battle, her work led to both the shuttering of the plant in 2014 and, in 2020, a landmark $12 million settlement awarded to lead-poisoning victims in her community. Though the settlement now faces an appeal by Kenya’s environmental agency, she had the passion, the strength and the stick-to-it-iveness to see the case through.

People say you can’t fight city hall; Phyllis Omido proves that not only can you fight, you can win.

Brockovich is an environmental activist

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