A train debate stops by soiled Altgeld Gardens
September 7, 2015 - storage organizer
- Sun-Times Media
- In 1974, gas leaking from a circuitously storage tank forced a residents of Altgeld Gardens from their homes.
A dozen or so people collected around Cheryl Johnson for a grave kind of story time.
Johnson is a de facto mama of Altgeld Gardens, a open housing formidable on a distant southeast side that’s home to about 5,000 mostly black residents. Altgeld is roughly bucolic looking, cut off from a rest of a segment by a bend of a Little Calumet River, a woodsy Beaubien Forest Preserve, and a H2O diagnosis plant. The area’s nickname—the “toxic doughnut”—is reduction rustic.
Altgeld Gardens is seen by many as a hearth of a environmental probity movement, and as Johnson’s visitors clustered around her she ticked off a list of a pollutants that have tormented her area for decades.
“We had fiberglass, asbestos, lead,” she said. “The PCBs. And we speak about a dirt contamination, we had DDT, DDE, DDD. All those industrial pesticides in all these yards over here that are still prohibited today.”
Altgeld’s vicinity to a southeast side’s slew of factories, landfills, dumps, and soiled waterways has left a residents unprotected and exposed for some-more than 30 years. And although Johnson has been priesthood this gospel for decades her assembly was unexpected. A cackle of veteran environmentalists and longtime village activists were assimilated by a tiny handful of bona fide celebrities. Among them was Antonique Smith, an thespian and thespian who played Mimi in a Broadway prolongation of Rent and Faith Evans in a B.I.G. biopic Notorious, and Malik Yusef, a poet, rapper, and filmmaker who writes marks with Common and Kanye West and who wrote and constructed a brief film that was an central preference during Cannes. Altgeld was only one stop on a cross-country train tour of environmental probity sites around a country. The tour, that is sponsored by a Hip Hop Caucus and People’s Climate Music, includes stops in New Orleans and Ferguson, Missouri, among other cities.
Yusef grew adult down a travel and described his childhood dismay during training of a wickedness in a area’s waterways.
“Maybe we only have a gene in me from my father or something to be an activist,” he said. His father was concerned in a polite rights transformation of a 1960s and ’70s. Yusuf added, “And this is truly a polite rights emanate as well.”
President Barack Obama helped absolved a housing formidable of fiberglass and asbestos insulation during his days as a village organizer here.
“It was a blessing since we was always a one who had to stand adult in a integument to get a bikes in a summer,” Johnson explained. “And we would come out scratching for days.”
But that was distant from a misfortune of a effects. Johnson hereditary this quarrel from her mother, Hazel.
“She listened that a south side of Chicago had a top occurrence of cancer of anywhere in a city,” she recalled. “And she knew people who had cancer. So she started interrogation and found out that this area had all a environmental problems we have.”
Hazel Johnson was one of several activists who assured President Bill Clinton to pointer an executive sequence in 1994 insisting that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency take “EJ” principles, as they’re called, into account. The organisation now defines environmental probity this way: no organisation of people, including no secular minority, should be disproportionately impeded by a consequences of pollution. But that same day Johnson gave her tour, a EPA’s Office of a Inspector General issued a report that slammed a organisation for boring a heels on manners that would safeguard each preference done be sensitive by environmental justice.
Although Johnson seemed rather weary, she did not seem discouraged.
“We’re not going nowhere,” she said. “Because we trust in an aged saying. My favorite comedian, Robin Harris, he called us ‘Bebe’s Kids.’ We don’t die—”
Smith smiled far-reaching and assimilated in. In unanimity they shouted, “We multiply!”
They pennyless into meaningful delight and hugged one another.
Then everybody filed behind on a train and headed to Detroit, and another environmental battleground.