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The Rundown Podcast - PM Show Tile

Stay in the loop with the Windy City’s biggest news.

The Rundown Podcast - PM Show Tile

Stay in the loop with the Windy City’s biggest news.

Hazel Johnson: ‘The mother of environmental justice’ in Chicago

In the late 1960s, Hazel Johnson was living in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side when her husband died of lung cancer. She also saw dozens of other people in her community suffering from respiratory issues and contracting cancer, despite having no family history of the disease. “She was like, that's just too many people in one neighborhood,” said Hazel’s daughter, Cheryl Johnson, who would eventually take up her mother’s mantle. “And then she started making the connection that the air quality in our neighborhood, you could cut it with a knife.” So, Hazel Johnson founded an organization called People for Community Recovery, and over the next several decades she successfully lobbied local and federal governments to force industrial polluters to change their ways and clean up their messes. “She's known as the mother of environmental justice,” said Damon Williams, co-creator of a six-part podcast on Johnson called Help This Garden Grow. “And for someone who loomed so large in our city and in the country, it was clear that there was not a full telling of her story that was accessible to us in any way. And if it's not accessible to us, that means it's probably not accessible to most people who are not looking as deeply as we are.” In this episode of The Rundown, Cheryl and Damon tell the origins of Hazel Johnson’s powerful story and the work still to be done.

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In the late 1960s, Hazel Johnson was living in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side when her husband died of lung cancer. She also saw dozens of other people in her community suffering from respiratory issues and contracting cancer, despite having no family history of the disease.

“She was like, that's just too many people in one neighborhood,” said Hazel’s daughter, Cheryl Johnson, who would eventually take up her mother’s mantle. “And then she started making the connection that the air quality in our neighborhood, you could cut it with a knife.”

So, Hazel Johnson founded an organization called People for Community Recovery, and over the next several decades she successfully lobbied local and federal governments to force industrial polluters to change their ways and clean up their messes.

“She's known as the mother of environmental justice,” said Damon Williams, co-creator of a six-part podcast on Johnson called Help This Garden Grow. “And for someone who loomed so large in our city and in the country, it was clear that there was not a full telling of her story that was accessible to us in any way. And if it's not accessible to us, that means it's probably not accessible to most people who are not looking as deeply as we are.”

In this episode of The Rundown, Cheryl and Damon tell the origins of Hazel Johnson’s powerful story and the work still to be done.

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