People For Community Recovery’s (PCR) mission is to enhance the quality of life of residents affected by pollution. We advocate policy and program changes on issues of the environment, health, housing, education, training, safety, and economic development. PCR was founded by the late Mrs. Hazel M. Johnson, the Mother of Environmental Justice, on June 25, 1979, ten years after the death of her husband, John W. Johnson, Sr.

Mr. Johnson died from progressive lung cancer. She later learned that the zip code where her home was located had the highest incidence of cancer than any area in Chicago. Mrs. Johnson wanted to know why. The community often complained about the terrible smells in the area, which she was not right or normal for her community to experience every day. Mrs. Johnson started her own research and learned that the community was surrounded by 50 documented landfills, 250 leaking underground storage tanks, and nearly 300 hazardous and toxic industrial operators, including the country’s largest water treatment facility, across the street from her home. She organized her community to fill out a complaint form for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Over 1200 residents completed the forms, and she presented them to the agency. This began her activism to fight for environmental justice for her community. She coined her community the “toxic doughnut.” A description that shows her community in the center of this doughnut and outer perimeters are polluting industrial facilities.


Cheryl Johnson serves as PCR’s Executive Director. She is the daughter of the late Mrs. Hazel Johnson, who founded PCR. Cheryl learned the fundamentals of community organizing from her mother and carries on the work of PCR’s mission to enhance the quality of life of residents living in communities affected by pollution.

A lifelong resident of Altgeld Gardens, Cheryl is a well-known and highly trusted community leader. She is a fierce advocate for economic equity and environmental community benefits for south side residents. Cheryl has played an integral role in the functioning and success of PCR’s programs and administration since 1987. In 2001, she assumed the role of PCR’s Executive Director. Under her leadership, PCR has continued to work for environmental justice and economic equity, expanding their outreach across the region. Since then, PCR has stopped discriminatory recruiting practices from the Ford Motor Company on the far south side, prevented hundreds of units in Altgeld Gardens from being torn down and displacing residents, pressured the CHA to create a redevelopment plan that included community input, secured safe environmental cleanup on the south side and stopped (another) landfill from being placed in our community.

Her deep community connection and long-term vision for a thriving far south side and commitment to carrying out her late mother’s legacy fuels her work. She serves on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and the Illinois Environmental Justice Commission. She is also a certified trainer International Chemical Workers Union Health and Safety Council/Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

Why is People For Community Recovery excited for WE ACT’s Justice40rward Community Tour to come to your community?

It’s about time that we can come together as communities, elected officials, and governmental agencies to work on a common goal to restore a historic school building that will educate, train, and empower residents to improve the environmental conditions in their own communities.

What are 3 projects you are working on with your community?

  1. Restoring a vacant school to become a training and museum center.
  2. Engaging in the Chicago Transit Authority’s plans to extend the red railway to 130th Street across from Altgeld Gardens.
  3. Providing leadership in decarbonization, energy efficiency, and renewable energy policies and programs in Illinois.

What should others know about environmental justice in your community?

We want people to know that it is unfair to continue to ignore the environmental harms and their negative impacts on public health in this area and we are entitled to equal environmental protection, just like the less exposed, vibrate communities in Chicago.

Why is People For Community Recovery excited about the Justice40 Initiative?

For more than 40 years, we have fought for the cleanup of the Altgeld Gardens community. We want the current administration to join us in our fight by finally providing the needed resources to assist in the revitalization of our community, which is possible through the Justice40 Initiative.


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