12/7/23: “Help This Garden Grow” with Cheryl Johnson, Daniel Kisslinger, and Damon A Williams

A virtual discussion with podcast cohosts Damon Williams and Daniel Kisslinger, and activist Cheryl Johnson

Recording of the discussion portion of the virtual event with podcast co-hosts Daniel Kisslinger and Damon Williams, along with activist Cheryl Johnson.

Virtual Talks with Video Activists: “Help This Garden Grow”

“Help This Garden Grow” is a new podcast documentary series about Hazel Johnson, a visionary of the Environmental Justice movement and a resident of the Altgeld Gardens community on the far South Side of Chicago.

The late Johnson was the founder of the nonprofit People for Community Recovery, an Altgeld Gardens community-based organization that has been fighting environmental injustices for 40 years.

“Back in the 1980s, my mother was talking about changes in the weather pattern,” her daughter Cheryl Johnson said. “I remember that my mother said there would be great opposites: floods and droughts, massive earthquakes and record hurricanes and rainfall. You can’t keep abusing the land and not have repercussions.”

Johnson took up the mantle of service when she learned her community, which sits on the city’s southernmost tip at 130th Street with low-rise homes, had the highest incidence of cancer in Chicago. Johnson began probing and discovered that the development was surrounded by dozens of landfills and industrial facilities where underground storage tanks leaked, which led Johnson to name the area “The Toxic Doughnut.”

Johnson created People for Community Recovery in 1979 to help Altgeld Gardens residents advocate for themselves. Although Johnson passed away in 2011, her daughter and other residents continue her mission for environmental justice. The “Help This Garden Grow” podcast documents Johnson’s dedication to improving lives with over six hours of content.

Cheryl Johnson


Cheryl Johnson, Executive Director of People for Community Recovery in Chicago, was literally born into her life’s work. Growing up in Altgeld Gardens, a Chicago Housing Authority development on the South Side of Chicago, she saw her mother Hazel Johnson work tirelessly for environmental and racial justice.

Known as the “Mother of Environmental Justice,” Hazel Johnson relentlessly researched, questioned, petitioned, organized, and advocated on behalf of her neighbors, and ultimately all victims of environmental injustice. She worked with everyone she could, from local government agencies to college professors to community organizers – including a young Barack Obama in 1986, then director of the Developing Communities Project.

Cheryl Johnson worked alongside her mother since 1985 to bring about environmental awareness not only for impacted communities, but to challenge government and businesses to become creative and innovative to protect the environment. People for Community Recovery is dedicated to fulfilling “the dream of making Altgeld Gardens an environmentally sustainable village where community, government, universities and businesses can come to the table to create environmental solutions that will save the existence of the human species,” according to Cheryl Johnson.

Daniel Kisslinger and Damon A Williams


Daniel Kisslinger is a Chicago-based host and producer who creates dialogue-based media showcasing the stories, voices, and artworks of communities challenging power, reconfiguring public life, and reimagining our world. He is the Co-Founder of Respair Production & Media, and is the Co-Creator of AirGo, a weekly podcast in Chicago that reshapes the culture of the city and beyond for the more liberatory and creative.

A twice Webby-nominated podcast producer, Daniel has also been named an Artist Fellow as part of the UIC Social Justice Initiative’s Portal Project, as well as a Power of Cash Narrative Change Fellow by Economic Security of Illinois. His words have been featured in NY Times bestseller We Do This ‘Til We Free Us and The New Normal, a salon journal published by The Hoodoisie. Daniel also edits CTU Speaks!, a podcast produced by the Chicago Teachers Union, and also works as a consultant helping organizations, individuals, and companies build humanizing, subject-to-subject podcasts from scratch.

Damon A Williams is a movement builder, organizer, hip-hop performing artist, educator and media maker from the south side of Chicago. He is the Co-Founder of Respair Production & Media, and the Co-Creator of AirGo, a weekly podcast in Chicago that reshapes the culture of the city and beyond for the more liberatory and creative. He is the co-director of the #LetUsBreathe Collective, an artistic activist organization birthed out of supply trips to support the Ferguson uprising in resistance to the murder of Mike Brown. Williams and #LetUsBreathe transplanted the experiences from the front lines and continue to organize direct actions and community enrichment events throughout the streets of Chicago and in their movement building community center The #BreathingRoom Space, with the mission of utilizing cultural production and popular education to redistribute power and resources, eradicate systemic violence, and transform inequity.

In honor of his leadership, Damon been named a TIME Magazine’s 2020 Guardian of the Year, a Field Foundation 2021 Leader for a New Chicago, a Margaret Burroughs Fellow by the UIC Social Justice Initiative’s Portal Project, and a Power of Cash Narrative Change Fellow by Economic Security of Illinois.

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