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Renowned Environmental Activists Instill Hope in NMH Students

Nov. 10, 2021 — Tenth-grade students in two Humanities classes recently watched the Oscar-winning film Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts. The film chronicles the successful 1993 lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric for poisoning the water in a small California town for more than 30 years. The suit led to the largest settlement of its kind with the utility giant paying $333 million in damages to more than 600 residents.

The movie made Brockovich a household name, and students had the chance to hear directly from her and fellow international environmental activist Catherine Coleman Flowers during a two-day visit to NMH as part of a school-wide “conversation series” centered on the broader “citizenship and environmental stewardship” learning theme for the 2021–22 school year. 

Flowers, an activist for equal access to water and sanitation for marginalized communities, is a member of the White House National Climate Task Force and the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She is a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient and author of Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret.

On Oct. 28, Flowers and Brockovich Zoomed into Memorial Chapel, where all students and faculty were gathered, to answer students’ questions. Later that day, the pair visited classes — Brockovich met with the Humanities classes who watched her film, and Flowers met with a 10th-grade Diversity and Social Justice class. 

Oluwaseyi Mojeed-Balogun said meeting Brockovich — now a world renowned environmental activist, consumer advocate, and grandmother — on a Zoom screen in his classroom left him feeling more hopeful about his power to combat climate change and its consequences. He is impressed by Brockovich’s persistence. “She won her case, and 30 years later she’s still relevant and actively working on these issues. I’m inspired to keep going,” he said.

During the all-school meeting, several students asked for advice on how to advocate for the environment while engaging with people whose religious beliefs, political leanings, or business practices make them less likely to believe in climate change or to support actions to correct practices harmful to the environment.

Flowers advised slowing down, listening to all points of view, and letting people and communities speak for themselves. She said, “Let’s talk about the things we have in common. It’s just like a friendship. You need to be patient and take the time to find out what you share.” It’s a strategy that worked, she said, when she met with Jeff Sessions, former U.S. Attorney General under President Donald Trump and former U.S. Senator from Alabama. “We talked about our shared rural background, me coming from rural Alabama too, and about the related poverty. We found that common ground that connected us and from there we could have a conversation.”

Brockovich added that environmental advocacy isn’t easy work and can become overwhelming. “When that happens, come back home,” she said. “Go local. Go to your own backyard. See what you can do in your state, your town, your community.” She reminded students that large-scale change can start with one person, one small group of people, or one community. “Catherine was that one person. I was that one.” 

Adam Mazur ’24 said he was both grateful and a little star struck to be able to engage with Flowers and Brockovich at school. “It’s amazing to have such important activists come to our school, and a real privilege to go to a school that can provide these experiences for students,” he said.

The yearlong conversation series will bring two or more speakers to NMH each term. In addition to all-school discussions featuring invited speakers, the series will provide opportunities for students to engage with the speakers in more intimate settings, such as in classes or with their advisory groups, or during special dinner gatherings. Read more about the learning theme.