SOUTH LOS ANGELES - We all love a good superhero movie, but often, it's the real-life heroes in our own backyards that deserve some recognition.
For 17 years, Deborah Bell-Holt has been fighting to end oil drilling in the city of Los Angeles. There are hundreds of active drilling sites around our urban areas, many of which are within 1,500 feet of homes and schools. Bell-Holt’s son used to attend the Carson-Gore School in South L.A. which is sandwiched between an oil well site on one side, and a gas station on the other.
After her son started suffering asthma, headaches, and rashes she took action.
“He couldn't concentrate in school,” Bell-Holt explained. “He couldn't do very well so I had to take him out. It is a very beautiful school inside and state-of-the-art technology that they're giving the kids…on top of pollution.”
Bell-Holt says that part of the school grounds lies over surplus gas storage tanks that can leak. Part of her mission is to establish a 2,500-foot safety buffer zone and better containment walls for oil sites. She said it's difficult to get any traction though, as low-income communities often feel powerless against big corporations.
“This [area] is low-income. A lot of [people] are afraid to talk because this is their homes,” said Bell-Holt. “You make too much noise you're out of here. I'm not afraid of making noise.”
Although she sometimes finds it frustrating trying to be heard in her fight for environmental justice, she was just recently honored at the Solution Project's annual One100 Awards where Avengers: Endgame star Don Cheadle made a surprise appearance to honor women who are fighting for clean energy in their communities.
“He said, ‘Hi, Deborah,’ and it was very shocking,” Bell-Holt said with a smile. “We talked about the act of oil drilling sites and I just explained how damaging it is to all of us in our lives.”
Fictional heroes like The Avengers show us that teamwork is a key to success, and Bell-Holt agreed that she can't continue her fight alone.
“I need more people doing the same thing in their areas,” she said. “If you’re afraid to talk about it, look me up, I'll come over and help you talk about it. Have some answers and solutions.”
Although she says she's not giving up any time soon, Bell-Holt also realizes that when it comes to fighting for the environment, the road ahead is long.