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Tackling Our Climate Crisis

The full episode transcript for The Power of the Black Vote: Tackling Our Climate Crisis.


Into America

The Power of the Black Vote: Tackling Our Climate Crisis

Trymaine Lee: This is Florida oyster. I heard this is the best of the best.


Lee: Right?


Lee: And how should I do this? I’m just -

Rob Olin: So, just tipping the frontend.

FAMU Students: (LAUGH).


Olin: Almost like you’re doing a shot.

Lee: I've done that once or twice.

Olin: Then you're a veteran.

Lee: All right.


Lee: Last weekend, I was standing on a boat in the middle of Oyster Bay, about 30 minutes South of Tallahassee’s Florida A&M University. The buzz of students and oystermen filled the air as I was about to try my very first raw oyster straight from the water.


Lee: I don’t know why I did it.

Olin: Yeah.

Olin: (LAUGH).

Lee: I don’t know why, but I did it.

Olin: (LAUGH).

Lee: (Inaudible).

Olin: You did it like a pro (LAUGH).


Lee: Not sure exactly why I did that, but I did it.

Olin: I can’t even believe that’s your first one the way you did it.

Lee: Yeah.

Olin: If you did it like it was your 100th.

Lee: But you said give it like a shot, so I--

Olin: Yeah.

Lee: --I’ve done that a little bit of--


Lee: A little bit.


Lee: Now, the taste of the shellfish isn’t exactly my thing, but whether or not you find them delicious, oysters aren’t just food, they’re crucial to the health of the ecosystem.

Jordan Roberts: I am one of the 3,000 species that is completely and solely dependent on oysters cleaning the ocean because I need the ocean.

Lee: Each adult oyster can filter about 50 gallons of water per day, clearing the oceans and bays for other marine life to live and grow. And when the oysters die, the empty shells also create structures for other sea life to take shelter in. Over time, these oyster reefs form barriers that protect shorelines from extreme storms and weather.

Archival Recording: The National Hurricane Center warning the Florida peninsula will face catastrophic winds and flooding.

Lee: According to the National Weather Service, Apalachee Bay, where these students work week after week, is one of the most surge prone areas in the U.S. But oysters are dying. The area surrounding Oyster Bay used to be home to one of the most lucrative seafood industries in America. And until recently, at least 10% of the nation’s oysters used to come from Florida. But in the last 15 to 20 years, the region’s oyster population has plummeted by more than 95%. This endangers the surrounding ecosystem. And because the oyster reefs aren’t being replenished, people on the coasts are more vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Jalon Bristol: Some of these ecosystems, some of these places, they start to change because of odd stuff that we’re doing.

Lee: Humans caused this.


Rob Olin: Dredging, pollution, overharvesting, those are the big three.

Lee: And humans can fix this. At least, that’s the spirit, a new generation of young black environmental scientists are holding on to in North Florida.

FAMU Student: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

Lee: For decades, Florida A&M University, one of the largest historically black colleges or universities in the U.S. has led the charge in environmental stewardship. And in 2021, the Dean at the School of the Environment reached out to local oyster farmer, Rob Olin, with an idea.

Olin: And he’s always excited when he calls us. He said, "Rob, I’ve got an idea and I’ve got this (buoy), but we need to put it someplace who will use your boats because we’re going to have to clean it." Sure."

Lee: What unfolded was a project to study Oyster Bay like never before using a special (buoy). Over the course of several months, a team of FAMU undergrads joined forces with Rob to repopulate a seven acre area of water that for years had little to no live oysters in them.

Roberts: And so, we have this (buoy) that floats above the water.

Lee: Jordan Roberts is a recent grad of FAMU’s School of the Environment. She was part of the first group of students who built the buoy, which they named the Rattler Moji after the school’s green and orange serpentine mascot and a play on the word emoji, nodding to the buoy’s bright yellow color. The Rattler Moji is solar-powered and monitors key water quality metrics like carbon and pH levels. When they finished building it, the students launched it into the bay.

Roberts: So, because it’s connected to Wi-Fi and it’s getting that solar energy, it is able to send a signal from the Rattler Moji to the lab in real time.

Lee: They’ve used these metrics to understand how the marine ecosystem in the bay functioned without oysters filtering the water. And later this year, they’re planning to introduce young oysters into the water to compare the data and see what’s different.

Roberts: And then maybe use that data to understand why we need to put oysters in certain areas to clean out certain bodies of water and how we can strategically do that in a way that’s sustainable and that can, in the long term, help clean the shores and the oceans and not just this one.

Lee: And as climate change continues to leave its mark on the countless habitats and species that call Earth home, young people like Jordan and her classmates had been increasingly moved to act.

Archival Recording: A global movement of young climate activists is retrenching, trying to funnel frustration and outrage into greater pressure for the world to act.

Archival Recording: The lawsuits that were filed by kids as young as eight, they say that the governments, the state governments, the United States violated their constitutional rights of liberty and security by knowingly polluting what they say is their backyard.


Archival Recording: Millions walked out of classrooms today demanding action on the climate.


Archival Recording: Climate change is real.

Lee: For young voters across the U.S., including students at FAMU, the environment is a top issue.

Archival Recording: (Inaudible) to evacuate as Florida braces for a possible direct hit from Hurricane Ian.

Lee: And just this week, the school had to shut down campus as Hurricane Ian made landfall.

Archival Recording: Its hurricane force winds now extending some 40 miles from its center and it’s building strength.

FAMU Student: Our generation is a lot more self-aware and I think we’re a lot more aware of climate change as well like we definitely acknowledge the fact that it’s real.

Lee: According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, a majority of young Americans favor phasing out gasoline cars and braking from fossil fuels. And compared to baby boomers and older adults, more millennials and Gen Z’ers believed that the government isn’t doing enough to address climate change.

FAMU Student: Us as humans, we need to just start thinking more serious and start saving the Earth because that’s how we survive.

Lee: Yeah. Do you think politicians have taken it seriously enough?

FAMU Student: No, they need to, they really need to.

Lee: And more than half of Gen Z adults and millennials say that climate change is affecting their local community. That’s especially true for young black Americans who are more likely to be exposed to air pollution, flooding, and extreme heat compared to their white counterparts.

Roberts: If you’re breathing, you’re affected by climate change, you’re affected by climate chaos. But if you’re black and breathing, you’re disproportionately directly affected by climate chaos.

Lee: In August of 2022, a poll from the Alliance for Youth Action found that more than 30% of black young adults in battleground states like Florida named climate change as a top three issue in the upcoming midterms.

Bristol: Without the Earth, we’re nothing.

Lee: With the 2022 midterm elections just a couple of months away, Democrats and Republicans are already trying to attract this dynamic young voting bloc. In House races, the environment is the second most common topic in television ads for candidates in both parties, according to an analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project.

Archival Recording: We protected our waters.

Archival Recording: And kept Florida beautiful.

Archival Recording: Thank you, Governor.

Archival Recording: Thank you.

Archival Recording: Thank you.

Archival Recording: Thank you, Governor DeSantis.

Archival Recording: It is an energy jobs plan, creates more than 1 million jobs in the state, protects the oil and gas jobs that we have, but expands those to include more wind, geothermal, hydrogen, solar, but it’s jobs, high paying.

Archival Recording: Together, we can protect the environment for future generations, so get on board, and if people ask you why, just tell them, the Texas Railroad Commission is the most important climate election in the country.

Lee: And Democrats hoping to sustain the unprecedented youth turnout they saw for their candidates in the 2018 midterms are hoping the newly passed Inflation Reduction Act will sway them voters their way come November.

Archival Recording: The Inflation Reduction Act invests $369 billion to take the most aggressive action ever, ever, ever, ever in confronting the climate crisis and strengthen our energy security. (DRUM ROLLING).

Lee: On this next step of our tour, the power of the black vote, we’re in the heart of North Florida at the illustrious Florida A&M University, home of the world famous Marching 100. (DRUM ROLLING).

The rise of hurricanes and other climate catastrophes over the years have called young black voters at FAMU and all across the country to see they can’t just wait for politicians to step up on climate change. They’ve got to take matters into their own hands before it’s too late.

Roberts: The climate has changed. It’s no longer climate change. It’s in a state of chaos. There’s a lot of things that are irreversible. If humans don’t start tapping in, we’re just gonna be caught off guard.

Lee: I’m Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America. We’re in Florida where a collective of black students are building a tool to answer some big questions about climate change. This week, how the urgency of Earth’s future is shaping the next generation of black environmental scientists.


Lee: So, what are we seeing right now? I know they’re cleaning the barnacle, but what do we - describe what we’re seeing here?

Bristol: Right now, we’re just scraping the buoy, just scraping where the barnacles are.

Lee: That’s Jalon Bristol. He’s a shy fourth year environmental studies major at FAMU. Every two weeks, he comes out to Oyster Bay with oystermen Rob Olin and a group of other FAMU students. They put on some protective gloves and clean the barnacles off their Rattler Moji, the water-sensing buoy.

Bristol: Yeah, they’re really gonna be really slow.

Archival Recording: Are you surprised at how quickly they grow? I mean if you’re coming out here a couple of weeks?

Bristol: Yeah, I definitely was.

Lee: Since joining the Rattler buoy project in March, Jalon has come to know and love the bay and all the wildlife around it. He’s constantly learning something new.

Bristol: Rob, he’s always you know, given us these facts about the estuary and how there’s the biggest, like, freshwater spring on the planet.

Lee: Jalon grew up in Chicago and he’d had an affinity for the natural world since childhood.

Bristol: I was always like a curious kid, like I always did, like, go outside and look at all the bugs and like, "What’s on the tree? What’s on the plant?" Like just what’s outside.

Lee: He attributes a lot of his passion for the environment to his mom, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bristol: We went up there for bring your child to work day, and there was this guy. So, like, he had all models of insects, like the ones that are, you know, in the casing, like all types of bugs, and like it really - I just wanted to go to his desk all the time.

Lee: By the time he was thinking about going to college, his mom, an HBCU grad, was pushing him to attend HBCUs with strong science programs. But other people had gotten into his head with some false and pretty harmful stereotypes about HBCUs.

Bristol: I think I kind of let like the people who say, you know, the facilities aren’t the best and it’s not preparing you for the real world, I kind of - I don’t know, I guess I let that get to me. And so, I didn’t even like try to experience it.

Lee: So, instead of attending an HBCU, Jalon chose to go to the University of Missouri where he struggled to fit in.

Bristol: Being in the middle of Missouri, there’s just a limited amount of things you could do. The black community within the school was very, you know, small. And like my major, it was all farmers in the class like it was very agriculture-based.

Lee: Socially isolated and one of just a handful of black students, he knew Mizzou wasn’t the right fit. So, Jalon transferred to the prestigious Florida A&M University because of their well-renowned Environmental Science program. A soft spoken kid who was used to keeping to himself, Jalon has bloomed as a FAMU Rattler.

Lee: What was it like when you first stepped on the campus in the Environmental Science department? Like when you’re in that space, what was it like for you?

Bristol: I was in classes with, like, people that look like me, and not only look like me, but, like, wanted to see the same things like we all have, like, similar goals.

Lee: Uh-huh.

Bristol: And so, like, we kind of pushed each other and, like, we’ve even grown like closer as friends. The buoy project like that came to me because of the staff members, you know, noticing that I was doing certain things in the school and they were like, Hey, like, we have this project. We would let you to be a part of it."

Lee: Here at FAMU, he was more than just a number, and he had a warm community of other black students ready to take him under their wing, including Jordan Roberts.

Roberts: And when I first met Jalon, he was so excited and so passionate. And I was like, "Whoa, this is so cool, like, this is why I do what I do like--"

Bristol: The first time that I met Jordan was when we first came out here back in March, I want to say.

Roberts: He hits me up every now and then and he helped with this class and he helped with these guys. I know he’s taking organic chemistry next semester. I’m like, "Bro, I’m gonna be on campus like I can help you study those molecules."

Lee: Within the small Environmental Science community at FAMU, Jordan had made a name for herself.

Roberts: Mm-hm.

Bristol: I didn’t know who you were, but I heard that you were in the School of the Environment.

Roberts: Mm-hm, right.

Lee: Right? So, the legend - her reputation preceded her like The Legend of Jordan.

Roberts: (LAUGH).

Lee: (Inaudible) Jordan in school.

Roberts: Over really.

Bristol: Yeah, yeah. Definitely, definitely, yeah.

Roberts: Yeah?

Archival Recording: Definitely.

Roberts: (LAUGH).

Bristol: And then like--

Lee: Jordan didn’t always know this would be her calling, but she’s always called Tallahassee home.

Roberts: Born and raised here, yes.

Lee: So, this is like your backyard?

Roberts: This is literally my backyard.

Lee: She grew up on the saltwater beaches that make her corner of Tallahassee so distinct and she’s very protective of them.

Roberts: Anyone who knows me knows I’m outside. Anyone who knows me knows you better not litter around Jordan or you are about to get a whole monolog on why you should not have done that and you’re gonna be right at home in silence feeling sad.

Lee: Maple brown cooks for blacks and loose leaf from Jordan’s head, she wears layers of crystal necklaces and big copper earrings in the shape of Africa, and she’s constantly drawn to the outdoors.

Roberts: When I come out here is anytime my heart feels compelled.

Lee: Jordan took me to St. Mark’s Beach, which she frequented as an undergrad at FAMU where at days end, the sun seems to slide right into the water like a golden drop.

Roberts: Anytime God is like go, anytime God leaves my soul to be near still waters, that’s when I ended up here. I felt like this is as close as it gets to feeling what God feels like bliss genuinely.

Lee: Her spiritual relationship to nature touches everything she does. She’s got this great big well of creative power that can’t be tied down.

Roberts: Because I can be on a research trip chilling like just finished my research but I’m still in nature, so I can take the time to duck off and I produce - I make beats, I engineer and I write music.

Lee: Our producer Sojourner Ahebee stepped in with a little encouragement.

Sojourner Ahebee: Would you be willing to bless us with some vocals?

Roberts: Oh, my. What do you want to hear me cover? Well, I’m out of breath.

Ahebee: It’s up to you.

Roberts: Okay. If I could forget him, I would, please believe me. I’m in love with another man. Okay.

Ahebee: Girl, what?

Lee: In some ways, Jordan has surprised herself by becoming a scientist instead of pursuing a full-time career in music, but she had another force working in her life, her mother, who, for years, was the Dean of Graduate Studies at FAMU.

Roberts: So, I grew up on FAMU surrounded by orange and green submerged in the culture.

Lee: Was there ever a doubt that you would go to an HBCU like where you consider other schools?

Roberts: No. My mom was preparing me to go to FAMU since I could walk. I had a future Rattler who wants me on, and I looked at other schools, but I always knew I was gonna go to HBCU like it was kind of something that was a given, and I applied to other schools, but once I got into FAMU, I was not looking at those applications anymore.

Lee: Once in college, her love for the outdoors led her to some Environmental Science courses. But at first, it wasn’t really clicking.

Roberts: Obviously, I wasn’t really seeing a lot of people that looked like me. It was more like men, like white men. It was kind of discouraging. I wanted to change my major to something that had to do with music because most people were like, "How - why are you even doing science?"

Lee: But that all changed when Jordan took an Environmental Justice class, and at the front of the room teaching was a black PhD student.

Roberts: I had never seen a black woman scientist, environmental scientist ever, so we had conversations that I never had before. And having her and her being a student, a PhD student, and being a black woman, having her as a teacher really solidified in my brain like, "Okay, okay, like I’m on the right path."

Lee: Jordan says the rest is history.

Roberts: I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the Earth just being my classroom and--

Lee: This path has also influenced Jordan’s political priorities.

Lee: So, when you’re thinking about voting for a politician, like, what’s your checklist? What do you require for them to get your vote?

Roberts: At the top of my checklist is always where their head is at with environmental policy and their environmental agenda and how they use their funding for that initiative. I always look at, "Okay, what are you really getting into when it - when we talk about going green, and a lot of politicians really like to use that phrase because it’s a new phrase like, "Going green, going green," like, "Are you actually putting money behind that? Are you actually putting bills behind that?" So, I definitely look at that.

Lee: For years, politicians have struggled to energize young voters to show up and vote. Historically, their turnout has lagged compared to older voters. But the Democratic Party is hopeful that advocating for climate change will be one of the key issues that gets young voters back out to the polls in November.

This past August, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes the largest climate investment in our nation’s history. The law is supposed to combat the climate crisis with a number of initiatives, including investment and tax incentives for clean energy production and more money aimed at mitigating the social and economic damages of climate change. But Jordan says, black communities can’t afford to just wait and see if the legislation pays off. The time to act is now.


Archival Recording: Yeah.

Roberts: Historically, environmental racism places us in places where we don’t have the cleanest of water, we don’t have access to the freshest of water. But climate chaos is something that’s going to affect us because it’s going to geographically determine where we’re placed, where we go, where we start our families, where we continue to grow our families, where we’re misplaced when water levels start to rise.

Lee: So, when Jordan got a call from the Dean of the School of the Environment last year, it was the call to action she’d been waiting for.

Roberts: He called me up and he was like, "Jordan, you know, we’ve been working on this project for a minute and I really want you to be on the forefront." (DRUM ROLLING).

Lee: When we come back, the future of Florida’s bays and the black students who are working to ensure the health of water everywhere. Stick with us. (DRUM ROLLING).

Roberts: What we’re sitting here now is we’re sitting in the middle of an estuary.

Lee: Back on the water, FAMU grad Jordan Roberts is standing with students on a boat in Florida’s Oyster Bay, another boat with more students bobs nearby.

Roberts: So, we have freshwater and we have saltwater and we’re seeing an environment where they’re mixed.

Lee: That’s just beautiful kind of coastline.

Roberts: Yes.

Lee: It’s like undeveloped mostly There are some houses there.

Roberts: Yes.

Lee: But it’s just--

Roberts: Yes, yes.

Lee: There are some birds flying around.

Roberts: Yes.

Lee: I saw a little pink zesty one earlier.

Roberts: Pink zesty one and we got oyster bars over here (inaudible).

Lee: Fed by one of the largest spring sheds in the world, the bay is a draw for a wide variety of wildlife, surrounded by miles and miles of undeveloped marshlands, 1.2 billion gallons of water flows through here every single day.

Roberts: It is heaven on earth. There’s so many species in the water, so many different kinds of wildlife will be out here, sometimes dolphins will come up and swim up around, it’s beautiful.

Lee: As we move through the estuary at low tide, we’re greeted by the famous oyster reefs. They’re usually hidden underwater, but two times a day, like clockwork, the tide falls, and the structures loom some six feet from the bay floor, creating a labyrinth as it move in and around them by boat. These oyster bars are the result of thousands of years of oysters reproducing and settling on the shells of other oysters.

Roberts: When the water rises or when storms happen, those oyster bars keep those stormwater from coming too much into shore. So, that’s why oysters are so important.

Lee: This is amazing. We’re seeing it as like a natural land formation of like dead oyster.

Roberts: Yes.

Lee: That also has the impact of protecting the land.

Roberts: Yes.

Lee: These gigantic structures of empty shells used to provide a home for growing oysters, but after years of overharvesting and pollution, they now stand devoid of life. That’s why every couple of weeks, FAMU students at the School of the Environment come out to the bay to study the water and understand what happened to the species.


Roberts: So, right now, what we’re doing is we’re taking the Rattler Moji and we’re taking it out of the water.

Lee: The yellow buoy bobs on the surface of the water, the word Rattler is spread across in big green letters, and the solar panels that power it form a triangle on top.


Lee: Over time, the buoy accumulates barnacle growth and the students have to come out to the bay to clean it up.

Archival Recording: Yeah.


Roberts: And these barnacles grow really fast. So, if these barnacles grow in the wrong place or we take too long to not clean them and they grow too strong, we could have a week’s worth of data that is completely inaccurate because the sensor wasn’t able to properly pick up what it needed to.

Lee: Several students hanging off the side of the boat, leaning out toward the water to clean the buoy. They come armed with long PVC pipes and gloves and scrape and scrape until there are none left. For at least the last year, Rob Olin, the owner of Estuary Oysters, has been working with FAMU students like Jordan to collect data about the water in Oyster Bay. They want to better understand how the changing climate is impacting sea life.

Almost seven years ago, Rob acquired his oyster lease from the State of Florida as a kind of grand experiment. At the time, there were very little oysters in the water.

Olin: It had billions just decades ago.

Lee: For years, other local waterways in the region were also reeling from oyster reefs that were at historic lows. That’s catastrophic for the health of the environment. Jordan often uses another important species to drive home just how crucial oysters are to ecosystem.

Roberts: Oysters are the bees of the ocean. So, we know that without bees, there would be no flowers in the land because bees are keystone species of the land. Oysters are literally the keystone species that keeps the ocean thriving.

Lee: But as the oyster population has plummeted, the state even had to close some bays to harvesting. So, the students and Rob sit out on a mission to regenerate his seven acres of Oyster Bay to revitalize Florida’s oyster industry, clean the waters and save the oyster reefs. The idea was to place the buoy in water where virtually no oysters were left.

Roberts: For a year, we have data that is showing what the water property is before it’s being filtered out, before we have that new lease of oysters coming in. So, we’re able to really understand what is going on in that water at a molecular level.

Lee: Rob started to introduce oysters in a different section of the water away from the buoy through a process that involves growing oysters on the surface of the water in cages. And then something magical happened.

Olin: Last year due to some of the annual inspections I do for my largest client, we found seagrass on the seafloor. So, it’s working.

Lee: In an area where most of the plants and animals had died off due largely to human activity, the introduction of oysters and their filtering power seemed to have brought back some of that life. Jordan says the next step for the buoy project is to introduce oysters to the area with the buoy to understand how these species can transform a polluted water system.

Roberts: When we do add the oysters to the water, we’re going to be able to read that data and see the difference between when the oyster starts to filter out the water, how the salinity changes, how the pH levels change, what is going on. We’ll be able to see it in real time and do a comparative analysis and then maybe use that data to understand why we need to put oysters in certain areas to clean out certain bodies of water, and how we can strategically do that in a way that’s sustainable and that can, in the long term, help clean the shores and the oceans and not just this one.

Lee: Line last year, Rob Olin lost half of his oyster crop after a series of tropical storms created an influx of freshwater in the bay, offsetting the salinity levels oysters need to thrive.

Olin: All that surface water comes into Spring Creek and it was too much stress for the oysters.

Lee: But thanks to the FAMU buoy, Rob was able to take that data and submit it to the federal farm agency for crop insurance. But beyond the immediate economic challenges, these students are helping local farmers like Rob navigate. They also get to forge some pretty beautiful relationships with each other on the water.

Olin: You get students, and these kids would come down Saturday morning to go out on the boat, be like 9 o’clock they had arrived, and it was very quiet on the boat. I’d be telling them everything that’s going on (inaudible) we’re talking about water quality. But when we got to the lease and we pulled up our first oyster cage and dumped them out on the table and they saw all the little shrimp, all the little fish and all the little crabs, they went nuts. And you saw a transition, a dynamic transition, that for a guy of my age 68, gives me great hope that people with more energy than me, smarter than me, greater assets than me, can take this football, can take this relay flag to the next level long after I’m gone.

Lee: And over the course of learning and working with Rob, these students also get to nurture a connection with the Earth and it’s many ecosystems.

Lee: And as black people in this country, there are so many boundaries, whether they’re invisible boundaries--

Roberts: Yes.

Lee: --real boundaries--

Roberts: Yes.

Lee: --they’re policed in a certain way.

Roberts: Yes.

Lee: And there seems to often be this boundary around the outdoors.

Roberts: Yes, yes.

Lee: Do you feel like you’re breaking those boundaries?

Roberts: Yes.

Lee: And also the other people can see that, "No, we’re free."

Roberts: Seriously.

Lee: "And we could be in this business."

Roberts: We - we’re all here, yes. No, seriously, there’s a lot of disconnects from us and the land, us and the water that is systematic. It’s very hard to get people - black people to come to the water because of our history with being on the water and just what that comes with. So, I’m part of a generation and I’m trying to, like, really need to lead an initiative to where it’s like, "We know what was - you know, was kind of establishing what is being present and now and really rebuilding and rekindling this connection that is very natural."

Lee: Jordan graduated in the spring of 2021, but she’s back at FAMU working as the Project Manager at the Sustainability Institute where she continues to work on the buoy and mentor students like Jalon.

Lee: So, Rattler Moji has been around for a year, but when you think about the years to come, the next two, three, five or even six years, what are your greatest hopes for, you know, the project?

Roberts: My greatest hope is that we can launch Rattler Mojis all over the globe. That way, we can have data from different bodies of water and so, we can just have all this data and compare it, contrast it, analyze it, and really see how we can use it to raise awareness for the average person to know what is happening in real time.

Lee: Jordan says making this buoy data easily accessible will help educate people who are most impacted by environmental issues. And to her, it’s important that an HBCU is leading this project.

Roberts: When it comes to HBCUs and when it comes to just black and brown people, we’re always put last, and so, we’re always in positions where we don’t have the opportunity to be proactive. So, we are in positions where we are hit with the reactivity. So, it’s important for us to lead this so we can be at the forefront of being proactive, so we don’t have to be reactive, and we don’t have to be in a position where we’re trying to figure things out.

Lee: Back at the marina, students climb out of their boats and onto the wooden dock. It’s time to return to life on land. As the students put their equipment back, change their shoes, unclip their light vest, the long, hot day of lifting oyster cages and scraping barnacles tumbles off our backs.

Lee: Excuse me. What’s the best part about doing this work and also but like the toughest part? What is the best and toughest?

Bristol: The best part is that view. Every time we go out in that little open area right there, the view is immaculate every time, it never gets old. Yeah.

Lee: Why does this work matter and why is it important to be engaged in this work? Why is it so critical?

FAMU Student: I mean I feel like the water affects everything like the water can tell you anything about this environment. So, it’s important to know what’s going on in the water because you can understand like what’s going on on land or what’s happening with the food, what’s happening with the economy, like you can learn a lot from just picking out data in the water.

Lee: And I see a lot of y’all have that orange and green on.

FAMU Student: (LAUGH).

FAMU Student: No, no.

Lee: I wonder as FAMUans, as Rattlers, right?

FAMU Student: Yeah.

Lee: How proud are y’all to be doing this work representing your school?

FAMU Student: Super proud.


FAMU Student: We can’t get enough of it. The orange and green, it goes deep in the stream, you know, in the bloodstream.

FAMU Student: Yeah.

FAMU Student: (LAUGH).

FAMU Student: I’m extremely proud. You know, coming from a different school, I didn’t really have that school pride as much being in FAMU and like making the connections that I have, like, I’ve definitely grown to, like, really love and appreciate the school and the experience that I’ve had.

I don’t know, like, it just - it feels different being out here and like just knowing that our HBCU has the only buoy, you know, in the bay is pretty good experience.

Lee: And the fate of these oysters and this rich, its struggling ecosystem in Oyster Bay might just depend on this Rattler Moji buoy and the young black scientists behind it, carrying the future in their hands.

FAMU Student: But knowing that people that look like we are doing this type of research and, you know, it’s a big deal and getting to so many different people, it’s big to know, like, "Hey, this is my school, this is research that I work on and yeah, people like me are doing big things from my school, so (inaudible)." (MUSIC PLAYING).

Lee: Thanks to everyone at FAMU who helped make this story happen. To hear more from our HBCU tour, check out last week’s episode from North Carolina Central University about the student debt crisis. Next week, we continue our series, The Power of the Black Vote, in Jackson, Mississippi, where Jackson state students and alumni are drawing on Mississippi’s civil rights history to fight for abortion rights.

Maisie Brown: Living in a state and like staying here after graduation and wanting to raise your family here when you aren’t even afforded the most basic of medical rights, it’s very daunting.

Lee: And how - would a crisis put that fight in jeopardy?

Maisie Brown: Because of the water issue, abortion has it’s kind of like (inaudible) lower on the totem pole of like - of importance, and a lot of people that don’t think of like, "Oh, abortion, like, of course, it’s important, but it’s not as important as us needing clean drinking water." But again, it’s still a - like, in my eyes, a basic human right and just basic health care.

Lee: The power of the black vote tour continues next week. What do you think of the series so far? Let us know on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Our handle is @intoamericapod. We want to hear from you. You can rate and view Into America on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening right now. Your view helps others find our show.

Into America is produced by Sojourner Ahebee, Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Mike Brown, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, and Joshua Sirotiak. Original music is by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Aisha Turner. Special thanks this week to Stephanie Cargill, Adrien Mariner and Russ Mick. I’m Trymaine Lee. See you next Thursday.