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Environmentalists by Necessity

In the old steel town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, the toxic footprint is emblematic of what it means to suffer environmental injustice in the U.S. And nobody invested in the town’s future can afford to ignore it.
The Edgar Thomson Steel Works complex in Braddock.
The Edgar Thomson Steel Works complex in Braddock.Gene J. Puskar/AP

This article is published in collaboration with Topic and its new documentary series Braddock, PA, about residents fighting to bring their polluted steel town back from the brink. Watch the complete series here.

Where Braddock Avenue ends, after a patchwork of withering edifices, fading murals, and a few restaurants, there is a small, boxy green building with the name HOLLANDER’S plastered above its storefront windows. This was the name of a drugstore when, many decades ago, Braddock Avenue was a vibrant commercial corridor running through what was then one of the most prominent cities in America. Brandy Rawls is one of the building’s eight tenants, and she uses her space to run Oli’s Angels, an organization she launched last year to help expecting mothers with doula and midwife resources, and to provide bereavement counseling for mothers whose babies have died. Rawls herself lost her son, who was delivered stillborn in 2010, on Christmas Day.