In 1969, about a decade after Hazel M. Johnson and her family moved from New Orleans to the Southeast Side of Chicago, her husband died of lung cancer. Around the same time, each of her seven children began experiencing skin irritation, respiratory issues like asthma, and fainting spells. The culprit, Johnson determined after exploring her new neighborhood, was what she called the “toxic donut,” a ring of landfills, sewage treatment plants, steel mills, and chemical factories surrounding Altgeld Gardens, the public housing complex in which the family lived.
Ten years later, Johnson founded People for Community Recovery, or PCR, to advocate for simple repairs and beautification in Altgeld Gardens. But after learning of the cancer deaths of four of her infant neighbors on the news, she began contacting government health boards, regulatory bodies, academics, and activists to try to make broader environmental changes to the neighborhood. She knew she had to expand her organization’s mission to fight the environmental racism she saw plaguing her majority-Black community — and that’s exactly what she did for the next three decades.
Now, 10 years after ... Read more