"Pollution Is Killing Black Americans. This Community Fought Back."

"African-Americans are 75 percent more likely than others to live near facilities that produce hazardous waste. Can a grass-roots environmental-justice movement make a difference?"

"When Kilynn Johnson walks out the door of the house her parents bought in 1972, where she grew up and lives to this day, she steps into the warm embrace of a community where neighbors feel more like kin. Her home sits across the street from Stinger Square Park, where Johnson passed long days of her childhood playing alongside her siblings and cousins and friends. But by age 8, diagnosed with asthma, she spent more time sitting on the sidelines, watching the other children tumble on playground equipment or rip and run through the park. Once in a while a neighbor, Ms. Sylvia or any number of Black mother figures whom Johnson and everyone knew never to call by just their first names, might come by and check on her. “You doing all right, Kilynn?” they would ask the quiet little girl.

Near the end of 2015, Johnson felt short of breath and wondered whether the asthma that plagued her when she was a child had flared up once again. By the last week of December, she was able to leave her house on the corner of Dickinson Street and South 32nd Street, in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of South Philadelphia, only once, to drag herself to church on New Year’s Eve. Three nights later, she began vomiting uncontrollably. At sunrise, she managed to call her former partner, Tony, and could get out only one word: “Hospital.”

Several hours and a battery of tests later, doctors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia, across the Schuylkill from Grays Ferry, told Johnson that she needed surgery to remove a tumor from her gallbladder — but that she was also suffering from such a severe infection that she would require IV antibiotics and a week in intensive care before doctors could operate. The surgery revealed gallbladder cancer that had spread; the doctors removed her gallbladder, seven lymph nodes and part of her liver. She needed six weeks of both radiation and chemotherapy. “They didn’t know if I was going to make it,” Johnson said."

Linda Villarosa reports for the New York Times Magazine July 28, 2020.

Source: NYTimes Magazine, 07/30/2020