Trust for Public Land achieved a milestone in 2023, formally launching the Black History and Culture initiative, after decades of protecting Black spaces as an organic part of the mission. We are committed to creating and protecting more public lands that strengthen the Black experience—places where self-determination, bravery, and jubilation thrive.

TPL has always been rooted in commitments to community and equity. The Black History and Culture initiative is no different. In 2024, we are advancing this initiative with vigor. In every region of the country, and in neighborhoods where this work is needed the most, we are working on 15 projects that will imminently change climate, health, economic, and social determinants and outcomes. Collaborating with grassroots organizations and local stakeholders at their invitation is fundamental to our projects. Helping restore lands of disconnection and exclusion to public places of connection and inclusion is another critical component.

In Chicago, People for Community Recovery has asked TPL to partner in creating a greenway that will commemorate its founder, the late Hazel Johnson—widely recognized as the mother of the environmental justice movement. The greenway will leverage a major Chicago Transit Authority expansion, resulting from a nearly $2 billion grant, the largest-ever federal infrastructure grant awarded.

This expansion will extend the Red Line to Chicago’s far South Side, adjacent to Altgeld Gardens public housing, originally built to house African American workers returning from WWII. This is where Johnson lived and launched the movement. After noticing unusually high rates of health issues among community members, she discovered that the neighborhood had been built over a former industrial waste dump and sat in the center of a vast ring of polluters—more than 50 landfills, a chemical incinerator, steel mills, and many other contaminators—which she called “the toxic donut.” Johnson became a self-taught expert on the health impacts of environmental hazards and fought on behalf of her community, all the way to the White House.

Hazel Johnson’s legacy lives on through the ongoing work of People for Community Recovery, today led by her daughter Cheryl. Beyond a symbolic gesture, the future greenway will provide climate and health benefits, safe routes and long-denied accessibility to public transportation, and an exceptional greenspace in the heart of the community.

Born of tenderness, care, and urgency, the creation and protection of more places like this greenway is a systemic act of change-making. Equitable access to high quality public lands in Black communities—where local people gather, build culture, and birth movements, and where people from all walks of life may bear witness—ensures that Black culture is known and nurtured. To know the vastness of Black American imprints on this soil, and the culture we cultivate, is to fortify the foundation on which new generations of all Americans rise.

Over the last year, we have built momentum and good bones. But the reward for good work is more work. I hope you will join us. With your support, boundless possibilities will be realized.