LISTEN: Jan-Michael Archer on the fight for environmental and workers’ rights

Jan-Michael Archer joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss community-driven science in Alabama’s Black Belt and his role in fighting for workers’ rights at his university.


Archer is a senior fellow of the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice program and a Ph.D. Candidate and National Science Foundation Research Trainee at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. He also talks about his hometown’s troubled history and recently revisiting some of his favorite metal bands.

The Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast is a biweekly podcast featuring the stories and big ideas from past and present fellows, as well as others in the field. You can see all of the past episodes here.

Listen below to our discussion with Archer, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Transcript 

Brian Bienkowski

All right, I am now joined by Jan-Michael Archer, Jan, How are you doing today?

Jan-Michael Archer

Hey, Brian, I’m doing really well.

Brian Bienkowski

So you’re in Maryland, where whereabouts in Maryland?

Jan-Michael Archer

I am in Greenbelt, Maryland, which is about, I would say, 25 minutes from the DC line and about 35 minutes from Baltimore. So it’s kind of random and then three miles away from the University of Maryland, College Park, which is where I spend an inordinate amount of my time.

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent. That seems like for someone who doesn’t, me I mean, who doesn’t necessarily enjoy DC, that seems like a good a good amount of a buffer you have there. So you’re a little bit further away from where you grew up. So you are from Stone Mountain, Georgia, and I did a little research before this and saw some things about Stone Mountain that seemed very cool. And some that maybe didn’t seem so cool. So tell me about Stone Mountain and you know, growing up there.

Jan-Michael Archer

Yeah, so So for I guess for anyone who’s unfamiliar Stone Mountain is about 20 minutes outside of downtown Atlanta. It you know, the claim to fame. I go around telling people that Stone Mountain is famous for three things. One, Childish Gambino and that’s more of a recent thing. But Donald Glover kind of spent some of his formative years down there in Atlanta. And so I try to piggyback off a little bit and then Stone Mountain as a as a monument. So it says, I used to know all the figures, right? Because I used to work there. It’s like everyone who lives there, their summer job their first summer job is working at Stone Mountain, which is really ironic because now you know, due to kind of economic downturns in the 90s, what used to be a predominantly white suburban kind of mid-century location kind of flipped and became this predominantly African-American kind of middle class but lower-middle-class area. And the reason it started off or has been for so long before that was this, you know, kind of well-to-do, white, affluent, mid-upper and middle-class area was because of Stone Mountain, the monolith, this geologic structure is a granite 700-and-something-feet-above-sea-level exposed, you know, nothing, there’s no other kind of geological features like it in the area. And back in the early 1900s, a bunch of racist folks and Confederate sympathizers and apologists said hey, let’s slap a carving –the world’s largest carving– you know, kind of symbolizing and you know, monumentalizing the Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis as well as their three horses are displayed prominently on on the face of Stone Mountain. So it’s a I call it the world’s largest monument to racism, maybe the world’s largest physical monument, because they’re other symbolic monuments. But yeah, growing up there was was interesting because you could see kind of the impacts of white flight. You know, when I, when I was much younger, in kindergarten in elementary school, I didn’t really have a concept of what race was. And then as I got older, I kind of saw more of these kind of hallmarks of of the old South kind of popping up and, you know, and kind of making themselves themselves known. And, you know, I would learn that there used to be frequent Klan rallies, Ku Klux Klan rallies at Stone Mountain Park. I think this, this also came up, I wasn’t there, but back, you know, during the pandemic, and after the murder of George Floyd, there were all kinds of these little fires of, of protests popping up everywhere. And there was a big kind of standoff at Stone Mountain Park, due in no small part to this legacy of racism attached to the land there. But yeah, I mean, it also, you know, I, having done a lot of reading and writing and work on new urbanism, and, you know, urban planning and stuff like that, I have lost a lot of love for suburbs. But at the same time, I can’t discount or discredit the fact that it was a great place to grow up in terms of having access to nature.

Brian Bienkowski

I know you’re kind of tongue in cheek, you know, laughing about this monument a little bit. And understandably, it’s obviously a ridiculous, ridiculous thing. But, you know, when I step back and think about growing up somewhere where there’s a symbol of hate against me, you know, not me personally, but you know, against you or your ancestors or, or other people of color in that area. That’s, that’s kind of heavy. I mean, actually, to have a monument where you grow up, that’s a symbol against you is, that’s kind of hard to wrap my head around.

Jan-Michael Archer

Yeah, it’s also it kind of even when you weren’t, like, there’s nothing, you know, it’s clear as day it’s carved in stone, right? And try as you might, or, as much as you would think that that doesn’t have to touch on everything, it would come into play in the classroom, because all of our teachers would refer back to it. You know, I had a lot of black, you know, African, African-American teachers. And so they would, they would use it as an example, you know, when they’re talking about history, when they’re talking about the current… I had an economics teacher in high school, who constantly tied in kind of, you know, these racial, these racialized histories and, you know, racist legacies into economic, you know, curriculum. So, it is something that it was like this, this specter, right, that kind of covered this, the town in ways that, you know, were either explicit, or implicit.

Brian Bienkowski

And I did not know that Donald Glover was from there. And because I’m late to everything, I am actually just finishing the show Atlanta that he made, I’m in the final season. And it is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It’s so interesting. And again, that I’m years late to this, but what an interesting, interesting show, just the way he created that, and it’s kind of an ode to the area, and I really, I really love it. And his music is fantastic, as Childish Gambino, but I love that show. Very cool.

Jan-Michael Archer

Yeah, no, it’s fantastic. Definitely a love letter to the city. And to all of us who come from there and who, you know, aren’t aren’t living there anymore. It was a really great way to kind of feel connected back to home. For sure. Shout out to Donald Glover.

Brian Bienkowski

Well, hopefully, he’s listening. So you mentioned this kind of, you know, the suburban access to maybe having more green space, more parks, more nature. So you know, talk about that. And if there’s other things that kind of got you interested in the environment, health and justice, you know, where did that come into your life?

Jan-Michael Archer

Yeah, so I, I, it’s funny, I spent a lot of time outdoors. But I also spent a lot of time watching TV and specifically PBS, as a kid. We didn’t have cable, so I would just be glued to Nova, and Nature and all of these environmental science kind of shows and that built this this strong passion or at least strong curiosity and interest in the environment and in science. And so it was, you know, everyone was convinced that I would go into some sort of science field coming out of high school. So I went down to Florida for my undergraduate degree and I got a, I originally was interested in marine science that didn’t work out because I couldn’t scratch the chemistry. So I dialed it back and just did more terrestrial kind of conservation stuff. I’m got my biology degree from the University of Tampa moved over to University of Florida in Gainesville, got a wildlife degree, and coming out with my master’s in wildlife but having paid very little attention to our or coding or statistics, I kind of found myself in a position where I was like, “Well, I’m not going to be this bench scientist. And as much as I would love to go work in the Caribbean or the tropics and be that kind of biologist, I don’t really have a plan for that. So what what do I like, what can I do?” and while I was in Gainesville, I got linked up with this organization called NRDI, the Natural Resources Diversity Initiative, which was an organization that two of my friends started at the University of Florida. And part of the initiative was going out into local into local community and teaching kids, you know, supplementing their education when it came to biology and wildlife and ecology and stuff like that. So we’d go to these aftercare programs, and just really talk to kids, bring lesson plans, nothing was super, you know, intense or planned out. But it was an opportunity to engage very young kids, particularly these programs were free aftercare, we would go to these aftercare programs, and particularly most of them were free programs. So, you know, the clientele or, you know, the students that would show up to these programs were lower income kids. And this was an opportunity to provide for a population of kids that wouldn’t have any kind of one-on-one access in their regular day of school to nature and to biology and wildlife. This was a really cool opportunity to bring animals from the university, we’d bring alligators, I had a pet rabbit that halft the time that I would bring, and just it really, really, you know, excited me in a way that nothing inside a lab or, you know, inside the classroom had excited me. And so when I graduated, I said, “Okay, well, I think I want to go into environmental education.” And that’s actually how I ended up here in the DC area. My first job was at this place called Patuxent Research Refuge, which is a national wildlife refuge site. And so I worked there for a couple years as a lowly intern, I was thinking that I would get my foot in the door, and just kind of climb that federal ladder. And then Trump got elected. All the funding for environmental things, just, you know, got put on ice. And so I was, so that was disappointing. But also, it was disappointing that I found when I was working in government was, there wasn’t a whole lot of, let’s say, enthusiasm for kind of changing the way things were done. So the program that I worked under was called the urban wildlife refuge program. And it had been around I think, at that point for a few years. And the whole point was, you know, not everyone in their communities can make it to a wildlife refuge. But the wildlife refuge has personnel and staff that they can send out into the communities, especially in these urban areas. And so a lot of my work, and I’m really grateful for the work that I was doing, but a lot of it kind of focused on going out and talking to kids in these pretty affluent areas of Northern Virginia, whereas our refuge was located in Prince George’s County, Maryland. And, and so we had right in our backyard opportunities to engage with with lower wealth folks, and communities and you know, Black kids, and you know, Latinx, Black, Latino, Latine kids, but we weren’t doing it. And I questioned this, and I brought this up, and it just seemed to be one of those like, “oh, well, these are the relationships that we’ve always had. So we’re just going to keep playing this out.” And that didn’t really sit right with me because I would go over to Northern Virginia to an elementary school say like, Daniels Ron Elementary is one that comes to mind, where they had all of the resources under the sun, they had an army of parents that had the wherewithal to come to school with their kids and, you know, work in their gardens, you know, and provide all of these great amenities and benefits and good for them. But, and those kids you know, I couldn’t even get get the words butterfly habitat out of my mouth, they already knew and, you know, it felt very much like I was preaching to the choir there. And then I go to in the southern part of Fairfax County in Northern Virginia does have kind of the more e schools and kind of more disparity. And those kids you know, are really fidgety. You know, clearly, many of their other kind of basic needs were not being met. And so it was hard for them to focus and kind of, you know, pay attention to the to the lessons that I was talkin them about. And so seeing that up close is really what kind of turned me on to what I could do in as, as, as it relates to justice work, right? in terms of seeing a need, and seeing some resources, opportunities that could be redistributed to better fill that need. And so that’s what really got me interested in, not necessarily environmental justice, but I was working in the environment. And now I was interested in justice. So I kind of combined the two.

Brian Bienkowski

Well, that sounds like a pretty, you know, defining moment. But, you know, I always ask folks, what is the defining moment that shaped your identity, if you have another one, either professionally, or personally.

Jan-Michael Archer

I want to go back to something recent, that’s happened, I know a lot of people probably go go further back. But there’s a recent event that happened specifically with the labor organizing that I’m doing here at the University of Maryland that has really kind of contextualized and shaped and reshaped how I think of myself as a leader and like leadership in general. So I’m president of Fearless Student Employees. We are an unrecognized union of graduate workers here at the University of Maryland, and we don’t have bargaining rights. We can’t negotiate with admin. And it’s been a really tough slog, you know, spanning decades, but especially in these last few years to try and get that recognition, kind of because of the nature of graduate work. We, you know, we’re temporary workers, we’re underpaid, we’re overworked, we’re generally just disempowered in academia. And so it’s really hard to kind of build momentum around that. And so with what’s happening in our union, over the last few years, and especially with the pandemic, there’s been these like, huge waves, and then these lows, and every time there’s a low, the organization has to figure out, okay, who’s here who’s not who graduated, who dropped out, who’s taking a step back to take care of children, or parents or grandparents, who’s overwhelmed with Visa issues and worried about being sent back to their home country. So throughout all of this turnover, it’s the folks who show up that really make the culture of the organization. And sometimes those folks are showing up with with biases, right? And, you know, we’re all coming together under the banner of solidarity and, and justice and democracy in the workplace, without really having discussed what our gender ideas are, or our, you know, our views on anti-racism or our views on pay equity, you know, across disciplines. And that created kind of a pretty important strength test recently, a few months ago, because some of the leaders in our, in our group, specifically women and femme-identifying folks came forward and said, “hey, the way that y’all are operating, is really sexist. And, you know, we’re, we’re not going to sit here with this with you all kind of talking over us, with you all co opting our ideas in general, just kind of not respecting women in this group.” And that was, of course, like a huge gut punch to a lot of us in the organization, because we are, we’re labor organizers, right? We’re leftists, we are progressive, we’re fighting the good fight, or at least we so we thought, but of course, we’ve all got blind spots. So it was a really important moment to kind of think through what are the negative damaging harmful behaviors that we have let slide and perpetuate in our organization, in our union and how are they becoming barriers to our growth and to our future success, you know, and solidarity. And so as President, I had to figure out how we would get through this as an organization, and obviously, not unilaterally, but I did take it pretty personally, because I take a lot of pride in my my sense of empathy. And so it really kind of affected me and especially one thing that was said, which was consoling women privately after misogynistic harm, neither intervenes nor stops the harm from happening, and that I felt like was specifically directed at me, because I had heard these complaints before. But I had done just that. I had, you know, I had been the shoulder or the ear for for that frustration without actually doing anything, without actually implementing any policy change or action. And it really inspired me. You know, I got a lot of my environmental justice training in a work environment that was incredibly toxic, and it was all any of us could do to just kind of hold on and survive and eventually make it out of there. But once I got out, you know, I had to take a look back and say, “What did I actually do to improve the conditions for anyone else coming back through there?” And so going through this with, with Fearless, with with the union really inspired me to speak up and and use my voice to advocate on behalf of folks who who can’t.

Brian Bienkowski

know? No, that’s a really that’s a really interesting, interesting, you know, kind of pivotal moment, I appreciate kind of having a more current, a current one, because, uh, yeah, a lot of people reach back. And I think I mean, I will say I do want to talk more about that organization. But I will say this, as someone who knows very little about the organization, the fact that they felt comfortable sending that letter and the letter has obviously reached you, and hopefully others, I think speaks volumes to the kind of culture that already exists there. Because I would imagine in some places, oh, yeah, folks might not even feel comfortable kind of bringing that up. So I mean, I think if nothing else, it’s good that, you know, it’s good that there’s a culture of, you know, at least hearing people, even if things weren’t being done perfectly in the first place. And I totally feel you on, I’m in a very privileged position where I’m at, and I’ve been at this, ehn, for a long time, and it is easy to kind of just go through the motions and you know, bold people over is maybe strong, but just making sure that others are heard, even if they’re new, they’re or if they’re quiet, or if they communicate in different ways, I think is it’s a skill. And it’s something that you I think we’re all working on. So. So let’s, let’s shift gears, I want to come back to that. But let’s talk about your research. So you are you’ve you’ve done some work in Uniontown, Alabama, and I’ve had the good privilege to do some reporting there. And we’ve we’ve done some, some series on the myriad issues and the resilience of that community as well. So first, can you kind of tell listeners about Uniontown? And what makes it a poster child for environmental injustice?

Jan-Michael Archer

Yeah, absolutely. So union town is in Perry County, Alabama, which is kind of West-Central Alabama. It’s about 30 miles or 30 minutes west of Selma, which is, you know, very familiar civil rights landmark. And it’s predominantly African American. It’s part of this, this area of Alabama called the Black Belt, which has a really interesting history in and of itself. But the Black Belt as historically given birth to a lot of these awesome civil rights leaders, changemakers, the soil is very fertile and rich for kind of growing this type of leadership. And it’s so cool. And you’re still seeing that today in in Union Town. Unfortunately, what you’re also seeing in Union Town is a history and legacy of environmental racism. So my, my insertion into Union Town came in 2018, when I started working with an organization called Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health Injustice, and that organization started back in 2005, to try and prevent a mixed-use mega landfill from coming into their community. And ultimately, they were unable to prevent the landfill from coming in. And then in 2008, the largest chemical spill before the deep horizon Gulf spill. What happened in in Kingston, Tennessee, at a fossil fuel coal plant. And so the the impoundment where they were keeping all of the coal ash, which is this kind of slurry, when you burn fossil fuels are these byproducts, coal ash is one of the byproducts and it’s kept in this kind of liquefied slurry and these like holding ponds. And so billions of gallons of coal ash spilled into the surrounding ecosystem, and was subsequently cleaned up and then spirited away to Union Town to this land, this newly-built, state-of-the-art landfill that was saying, you know, Hey, bring it all. They brought in 4 million tons of coal ash in uncovered trucks, uncovered train cars. And from there, the health you know, many of the health outcomes and conditions of the folks –particularly the elderly, older citizens– in Union Town, just precipitously declined. Kidney disease, respiratory issues, cancer. The community was very quickly kind of losing its it’s not just its elders, but it’s it’s kind of it already lost its sense of any agency, because, you know, they didn’t have any say in whether or not this stuff was coming to their town and every at every turn when they tried to push Get out of their town, they were met with just all of the power and money stacked against them. And so in 2018, when I went down with, with my advisor at the time, our our whole plan was to figure out what can be done to get some sort of legal action or consequence, what data, what information, what science needs to come about, in order to repair this harm, and ultimately, kind of get this stuff out of Union Town. And so we embarked in this air quality monitoring study, and particularly, you know, we we come from a background of community-based participatory research, which means you empower the community to collect their own data to do their own research, and to speak about their own results so that they’re not reliant on an academic researcher, every six months, every year to come back, and that kind of thing. And so we, we set up an air quality monitoring network, we had training sessions, I, I stayed at people’s houses, it was a really fantastic opportunity, especially as kind of a junior scientist and junior researcher, because I was able to leverage not just my field experience from working in biology, but you know, my environmental education of just going down and doing community engagement and working with people and talking with people and eating with people, you know. And so I, and especially having lived outside of Atlanta and outside of the South for so long, it felt really good to come back to this to a place not so far removed from from where I grew up. A lot more rural, of course, but the you know, it’s very, very much felt like coming home doing the work in Union Town.

Brian Bienkowski

And when you when you talk about the air monitoring, so you’re working with blackbelt citizens fighting for health and justice and other residents. And so I would imagine that the the idea behind these air monitors is to both give them an idea of what they’re what they’re breathing, for, for safety and health and understanding. And then to maybe create some data so they can start advocating along with you all that, “hey, this is in our air, this should not be in our air, what can we what can we do differently about that?” So is that still an ongoing, ongoing data collection, and how are residents using that?

Jan-Michael Archer

in the last year, we were able to mount the first kind of Wi-Fi accessible air monitor, because another issue with Union Town being such a rural location, there’s the digital divide, divided, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the term, but you know, basically, for anyone who’s not, who might not be aware, it’s very hard to get internet access, especially high-speed internet access in, in rural communities. And that’s what we ran up against, we had this really great new innovative technology, but it was heavily reliant on being able to connect to a Wi-Fi signal. So we had to come up with a workaround, which was, again, training community members to pull the little SD cards out, and then put it in their phones, send the data to us for analysis. And then we send back kind of the visuals. And so finally, we’re at a place where we have some existing Wi-Fi in Union Town, to plug up monitors. And if you go online, you’ll see a couple of monitors. These are purple air monitors, you have to go to purpleair.com. And you’ll see the particulate levels in Union Town. So that’s something that’s actively ongoing, and that data is being pulled in and kept track of in terms of time of day, any kind of dynamics with regards to time of day, time of the year. As far as the initial pilot that we put together, a lot of those sensors now are towards the end of their lifespan, because in addition to the pollution sources and union towns, I talked about the landfill, there’s also well, the cheese plant, I think recently burned down. But there’s a cat fish plant and they’re these all these other emitters in town. And then on top of that, you’ve got Alabama summers, which, you know, sophisticated machinery does not play nice with. And so the lifespan of those first, that initial run of monitors is actually kind of coming to an end. And we’re trying to figure out okay, what is the next iteration of this project look like? What or do we just use? Are we going back and using the same monitors? Or are we going to try a different approach?

Brian Bienkowski

So it sounds like you have plenty going on with research and forming connections and not just doing this from a bench but you mentioned the University of Maryland Fearless Student Employees organization I maybe you didn’t say the name but that is the name and I know since the time I had a good fortune to meet you. This is part of who you are. It seems like something you put a lot of work and effort and thought into it. So you’re advocating for workers rights for universiy grad workers, and I know you’re doing a lot more. So talk about that maybe some victories you’ve all had, and what might listeners not know about university labor.

Jan-Michael Archer

big props to the folks out in the UC system. University of California, big props to folks at American University, Rutgers, there’s been this unstoppable wave of organizing around labor in academic spaces and on campuses that we also have fed into and fed off of, you know, as an organization. So Fearless Student Employees FSC, for short, has been around in in some sort of iteration really, for the last 20 years back in Maryland, between 1999 and 2001, there was this huge push to organize the entire state workforce in Maryland, and grad students hopped onto that as well. Unfortunately, through some shady backdoor deals, grad students were, consequently carved out. So a lot. And you know, the vast majority of state workers in Maryland are now unionized. But graduate academic workers as well as faculty, are not. And so for the past two decades, there’s been, you know, kind of ebbs and flows of, of organizing around this issue. And for the last five to six years, Fearless Student Employees has taken it up at the University of Maryland, College Park. And what that looks like, is listening to our constituents or, you know, kind of our peers, really our comrades about what’s going on in these labs, you know, in these offices, in these workspaces, you know, where are we seeing wage theft? Where are we seeing bullying? Where are we seeing, you know, racism, sexism, discrimination against mothers and parents? And so we take all of this, and we bring it to the dean of the graduate school. Because that’s really who the only person that we can get an audience with. And also, I think, the Vice President of the University and a few other administrative traders, but typically, whenever we bring this, there’s no obligation for them to act on any of the concerns any of the grievances that we bring forward. And that is because we do not have collective bargaining rights. And so Fearless Student Employees has also engaged in this legislative push for the last five years, where every year we put a bill up to the Maryland State Legislature. And usually, it dies in committee. And that’s the case that that happened as well this year, or sorry, usually it dies in committee. And that happened this year, as well. But each step of the year, year after year, each step of the way, we grow, and our movement grows larger and larger. And we’ve had so many, so many huge wins this year that I really want to kind of give a shout out to my team, to all of the grads who are kind of fighting this fight at the University of Maryland and across the country, but specifically what’s been happening at FSC and UMD. You know, we sent over 2000, we sent a petition with over 2000 signatures to the legislature this year, we sent almost 5000 emails to different legislators. We sent postcards, we informally got the support of you know, dozens of legislators on our side. So so this is all to say that we’re not losing hope.

Brian Bienkowski

vWell, that’s very exciting. And it is sad that we can’t just you know, let’s not just treat workers, well, let’s make them suffer until they until they reach a tipping point. But it is cool to hear that there may be as a tipping point and I you know, I think since 2020 and kind of the racial reckoning and the pandemic, it seems like a lot of movements have merged. You’re seeing people that aren’t just in silos talking about kind of environmental justice or economic justice or workers rights, a lot of that is kind of coalescing under one tent. And I think that’s a good thing because it’s the Snowball is getting bigger and harder to ignore on a lot of this stuff. So good on you for being part of that. So yeah, this has been a whole lot of fun. So to end I have three rapid-fire questions. You can just give me an answer. One word or phrase and then I have one more question after that. So first, I couldn’t live without

Jan-Michael Archer

I could not live without music and I’m becoming very very, very concerned about my hearing, like losing my hearing like it might be irrational. But I –well this is getting out of the rapid firing–. I love music and I’m terrified that I’ll lose my hearing and I won’t be able to listen to music.

Brian Bienkowski

Well that is a that’s a valid fear. I hope that doesn’t happen to you. This is not on my rapid fire list, but what So what’s an artist that you’ve been listening to lately?

Jan-Michael Archer

Okay, so have you ever heard of Machine Head? I have not. So Machine Head is this metal band from the 90s famously political, although their fan base, sometimes it goes over their head, which I think happens a lot in metal. But But yeah, they just had the 20th anniversary of this album called The Blackening, which is just like a perfect metal album. The only other you know, like, it’s up there with Megadeth. For me, it’s up there with Megadeth and some of the other just like classic bands so so Machine Head, I’m all about machine head right now.

Brian Bienkowski

I will check that out. When you said a band that’s political, where it goes over people’s head, I immediately thought of Rage Against the Machine and looking at some of their crowds, which looks like a frat party and we’re System of a Down Yeah, yeah. Right. And I mean, these are they are talking about yes, a radical radical issue. I mean, maybe not radical, but very progressive left left wing issues. The best piece of advice I’ve received is

Jan-Michael Archer

Trust your gut. It’s that’s something that’s really guided me in even in this last year. It’s crazy. I’ve made a lot of big moves in the last year and I was thinking that about a year ago I was listening to I think Elgin Aguilas agents LJ Elgin Elgin Avila as, you know, agents of change, podcast and just thinking like, oh, man, like I that’s where I want to be, like, you know, in the in kind of the peer, you know, in peer with with these folks who are doing just incredible stuff. And so for that to come full circle, and me having this conversation with you is is really just critical for me.

Brian Bienkowski

I hope somebody’s I hope somebody’s listening to you right now and thinking the same thing, and I’m sure they are. My first concert was.

Jan-Michael Archer

Okay, so my first concert was Coheed and Cambria, opened by the Fall of Troy, and this other band Clutch, I went with my dad. And it was hilarious, because they did a signing, like a little signing thing before the show. And this was back in the day of those like Kodak little one shot, kind of like, you know, shake the thing. And so where you can’t see the picture, you know, xennials maybe might not understand this, but you can’t you can’t see the photo that you just took. And so I go, I’m like, this is the first time in my life. I’m like, starstruck. They’re like, you know, I come up to the counter, they sign my little comic book. And they’re like, “Oh, you want a picture? “And I was like, “of course.” So I take a picture, or sorry, my dad takes a picture of me with the band. And then I take a picture of my dad, my dad’s like, hey, I want a picture too. And so we get them developed like a week later, and his thumb was over. And, and of course, the picture I took of him with the band was perfect.

Jan-Michael Archer

And then after, you know, so that’s, that’s my first concert

Brian Bienkowski

That’s pretty excellent. You know, I’m a bit of a Luddite. But there was something about those. I was gonna say they were a lot of fun because it was like, now you get to open a gift and see what what happened. But then you of course have that. And that’s the reason that maybe it’s not so great. So again, the last question and you do not have to confine yourself to one word or a phrase here. What’s the last book you read for fun?

Jan-Michael Archer

I’ve read a lot of really cool books recently. The last one chronologically that I read, I finished it yesterday. It’s called the Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s a time, well, I don’t want to give it away. It’s a sci-fi-ish, kind of kind of cool book. Not so much for fun, but more so for passion. If I can add I’m rereading Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the oppressed,” which is this kind of treatise on, it provides a lot of grounding for community-based work and community-engaged research. And, you know, it basically says, you know, you have to be amongst the people who are being oppressed in order to to get them out of that or to you know, to link arms with them. And that’s that’s been kind of like, churn you know, really stoking the fires of of why I’m doing this what I’m passionate about in terms of environmental justice so very grateful for Paulo Freire, rest in peace

Brian Bienkowski

excellent I believe that has been mentioned on this podcast before that sounds really familiar unless I’ve just I’ve just heard it so um, excellent. Well, Jan it’s been so great to not only talk to you today but to get to know you through this program. And I’m so excited just to see what you continue to do both with your research of course, but also with the Fearless Student Employees organization I’ve followed from afar and it’s really great work that you’re doing. So thank you so much for doing this. That is all for this week, folks. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Jan. If you enjoy this podcast, visit our program homepage at agentsofchangeinej.org. And while you’re there, click the donate button. You can also find us on the site formerly known as Twitter. You can find us on Instagram. And please follow us on Spotify, iTunes or Stitcher wherever you get your podcast.