An Environmental Justice Mother’s Day Wish List

SH Bell
Credit: Ivan Moreno

Flowers, cards and candy; or maybe less truck traffic, smog, and blight... As Mother’s Day approaches, I have two very different lists of what would make the perfect Mother’s Day as a mom living on Chicago’s Southeast Side.

By the hints that are being dropped, I think I may get new shoes along with a note from my four-year-old son for Mother’s Day. However, I know that as soon as I slip on my new shoes to step out for a walk around my block with my son, I will worry about the neurotoxins in my neighborhood’s soil and the smell of chemical fumes that constantly permeate our community’s senses.

You see, I live in an Environmental Justice community, which is one that I love, but also creates a divided mindset within me. As a result of the environmental issues in my area, everyday decision-making carries a weight of existing danger. I remain vigilant, on “high-alert” about the air my family breathes, the smoke we see (from nearby mills/factories) and even my very own front lawn. I live in fear about my environment when I sit on my front steps, even as the sun is shining and the sky is clear. Sometimes, the pollution in the air is thick but my neighbors and I have no clue what industry is dumping in our air.

On Mother’s Day, we celebrate life, but the polluters that disregard my family’s health are a persistent reminder of the environmental injustices that tens of thousands of families in Chicago are forced to endure on a daily basis.

I live only a few miles away from the home of the mother of the environmental justice movement, the late Hazel M. Johnson. She raised her family in an area surrounded by 50 landfills on top of the 382 polluting sources that everyday leaked toxins into her community. Hazel coined the term ‘toxic donut,’ a term that also describes my neighborhood, and she fought vigorously to protect her family and community.

Mothers from cities like Flint, Los Angeles and Chicago are fighting daily to raise awareness of these environmental injustices. From fertility disruptions to brain development delays, toxins affect women and their children’s lives disproportionately more than men. These scary truths are reasons why I have a few other wishes this Mother’s Day, which include:

  • Free health testing, screening for children in EJ communities
  • Local, state, and federal policies that restrict the cumulative pollution burden
  • Equitable land use and zoning laws

There are so many mothers like Hazel who are carrying on her legacy fighting for fair treatment from companies, as well as local, federal and state authorities. We want our children to have better and brighter futures and want our daughter and sons to have a different Mother’s Days—that are stress free and healthy. I hope all mothers have a great Mother’s Day, especially my fellow Environmental Justice moms.