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Category Archives: FAMU workshop

Florida is home to some of the oldest roads in America.  Planet Harmony's Spencer Henderson takes us on a trip back in time, down an old canopy road.  Below you can listen to his essay.  Check back soon for the accompanying video of Spencer Henderson touring Tallahasse's famous canopy roads.

Spencer Henderson: Canopy roads are an iconic feature of rural Florida. These shady paths lined by tall, overlapping trees cut a path through our landscape and our history. An example of a canopy road can be found in Southeast Tallahassee, on Old St. Augustine Road.

Huge moss-draped live oaks, hickory trees and stately pines arch over the two lane road. An enclosed fence extends on each side of the road. Behind it lies active farmland.

This road is essential to the everyday life of farm animals such as cows and horses and wildlife such as raccoons and deer. These animals flock to cool places where they can feed on the vegetation that grows densely here.

And it has been that way for hundreds of years. Old St. Augustine Road dates all the way back to the 1600s. Back then Spanish settlers used this path as a way to go westward from St. Augustine, Fla., through Gainesville, to Tallahassee, ending in Pensacola. St. Augustine Road could be considered the first highway built in Florida. It even predates America!  Even before the Europeans traveled here- Indian tribes passed under these ancient trees for centuries.

Since the road was completed in 1820s it has remained relatively unchanged. But with the charm of this historic canopy comes a modern burden. When rain dampens the old branches, the extra weight causes them to break off and block parts of the road. These trees becomes especially hazardous during hurricane season. But the risk of fallen limbs is a small price to pay for the joy of traveling this storied canopy road. It brings a sense of peace to rural life, and gives us a glimpse into the past.


Losing the ability to walk, talk, or even move a finger no longer precludes your ability to make music.  Planet Harmony's Amanda Legros explains the Brain Computer Music Interface or BCMI, a tool that translates pure thought into pure sound.

Amanda Legros: [PIANO MUSIC] You are listening to a patient who is bound to a wheelchair and paralyzed from the neck down produce sound… through pure thought.

This unlikely musician can’t move his fingers across a keyboard but he can think those notes. His thoughts are then processed through a skullcap spiked with sensors that gauge mental activity.

A new technology developed by Brazilian composer and computer-music specialist Eduardo Miranda allows patients with neuromuscular disabilities the chance to play and compose music with thought alone.

Miranda and computer scientists at the University of Essex have collaborated to develop a brain-computer musical interface or BCMI. They used a cheap and inexpensive form of brain scan called electroencephalography, also known as EEG. The EEG cap picks up faint neural signals from the brain. It then translates these neural impulses into musical notes.

But just like people who use electrically implanted prosthetic limbs, this technology takes practice.

This is a virtuoso of BCMI. A man sits motionless- a skull cap on his head with wires flowing out, that go through a set of computers, which are finally connected to an old wooden piano.

Miranda directs the man to change the tempo: “If he wants change it, he can change it.” And without moving a finger.  [PIANO MUSIC]

Miranda and his team hope to continue improving the ability for people with disabilities to make their mind play melodies. He has been trying to develop a way to create music using brain waves for a decade. His research to hone BCMI is motivated by the limitations of patients suffering from paralysis. The challenges of neuromuscular disabilities go far beyond not being able to move. There is a loss of control and independence. And trials with patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's have shown that music therapy can actually delay the progression of those illnesses.

This technology gives form to the old saying having a song stuck in your head.

Amanda Legros BCMI.mp3 1.9 MB

Historically Black Colleges and Universities have the potential to preserve their historic buildings while sustaining the environment and its resources.  Planet Harmony's Tara Mosby reports on efforts to retrofit landmark buildings on HBCUs.

Tara Mosby: Think about what it would be like to step into a building where Alex Haley spent hours writing fiction. Imagine what it would be like to sort through your thoughts in the same place Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream of equality. How would it feel to touch the antique walls of the room where Rosa Parks began her college education?

This history is preserved in the many historical landmarks that adorn the campuses of America’s historically black colleges and universities. Each of the famous African Americans mentioned not only walked the campus of an HBCU, but achieved something that improved the lives for the next generation.

HBCUs and their students can create a better environment for the next generation who walk these halls. One way to follow in the footsteps of our historic alumni is by reducing the carbon footprint of our historic buildings.

Since many HBCUs are home to historic buildings that won’t be demolished, why not make them sustainable? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 160 million tons of debris is generated per year because of new construction and demolitions- that’s over a quarter of our annual non-industrial waste.

The EPA also reported that nearly 40 percent of the total U.S energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings. Upgrading a historic building with sustainable features such as solar panels, rainwater collection systems and weatherization uses much less new building materials than building from scratch.

LEED is an acronym meaning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This system rates the sustainability of buildings.
George M. Sampson Hall (left) at FAMU received a $700,000 grant for historic preservation. Both Sampson and Young Hall (right) are being remodeled.
George M. Sampson Hall (left) at FAMU received a $700,000 grant for historic preservation. Both Sampson and Young Hall (right) are being remodeled. (Photo: Tara Mosby)

The United States Green Building Council awards buildings with LEED certification for being energy efficient, conserving water and other resources, and reducing carbon emissions. This program awards energy efficient buildings at one of three levels: silver, gold, or platinum.

Administrations at HBCUs are already considering LEED retrofitting as a practical way to preserve their historic buildings. In the stimulus bill, twenty HBCUs received a total of 15 million in federal dollars to repair sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The United Negro College Fund is supporting energy evaluations at HBCUs through their Building Green Initiative. And currently, Home Depot is accepting votes to divvy up $150,000 for sustainable building projects at HBCUs.

The historic buildings at HBCU’s are already standing; retrofitting them has the potential to save energy and continue the use of present materials.

So imagine that you are touching the same antique walls of the room Rosa Parks started her college education! Those walls have been weatherized! Step into to the building where Alex Hayley spent hours writing fiction- now look up! Those are compact fluorescents. And remember where Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream of equality- I’ve you been to the rooftop… and its covered with solar panels. Not only are Earth’s resources being preserved, but so is history.


Last summer in Gulfport, MS the 4th of July preparation was different than any year before. The smells of barbeque, fireworks and ocean water that filled the air were mixed with the smell of oil. Planet Harmony's Tuskee Barnes brings tells of her family's experience.

Tuskee Barnes: The Gulf Coast Oil Spill changed lives forever. My city was still recovering from the damages left by Hurricane Katrina, when a new wave of concerns over the area’s health and jobs washed on our shores. It took the form of approximately 3.3 million barrels of oil erupting from the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

At the time, I was in Florida at school. Hearing the news worried me, but the phone calls from family and friends about the setback were the real dagger to the back. I traveled to Gulfport, MS on July 3, 2010. Most of my family lives close to the beach. The smell was the fist thing I noticed. As I approached the beach, I was overwhelmed by the smell of oil. My throat grew tighter the closer I got, and I started to feel faint. Even worse was the thought of my family inhaling this everyday.

Clean-up efforts in Gulfport, MS nearly 1 year ago. (Photo by

It wasn’t long before my worries were being seen in sick people along the Coast. Residents reported symptoms such as coughing, vomiting, chest pains and other respiratory issues due to the exposure to the toxins. One of my aunts complained about headaches she started to experience a few weeks after the spill. She mentioned they weren't severe, but happened often for a few months. My aunt wasn't alone, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, more than 300 people had to seek medical attention for their headaches, chest pains, and dizziness.

My family also faced financial stress. My brother qualified for a job as one of the cleanup crew members. The salary offered 12-18 dollars an hour. Many locals jumped at the opportunity, some even left their jobs to work for BP. My brother decided to keep his. After about two months, the locals were replaced by out of town service workers.

A year ago I was shocked to find oil washing upon the shores. memory of last year.  I saw cleanup crews line up bags filled with oily sand for miles down the beaches.I saw a young girl kick up the black, oily sand. Her mother just laughed and told her not to do that.

Today, dark oil still lingers in the beach at Gulfport.  But the smell of oil has subsided.

Tuskee 3.mp3 1.9 MB

The best parts of nature sometimes only reveal themselves when you aren't looking for them.  That's what Planet Harmony's Erica Baker discovered when she set off on a hike.

Erica Baker: I remember when I was twelve years old, and I was at a sleepover. Every kid loves a Saturday- a sunny Saturday- even better! My friend Erica and I decided we should find something to do outside- Erica said she knew of a trail by the main road. She passed by it everyday when she gets on and off the bus but said, today we should see where it goes. Excited about the prospect of adventure, we charted a path. As we left the house, we picked up Erica’s two cousins who lived a couple of houses down. Then, off the four of us went into the great Georgia woods.

You see we come from Stone Mountain, Georgia. A part of Metro Atlanta, and home to the largest exposed piece of Granite rock in the world! It’s a scenic place full of nature and wildlife. The Piedmont region of Georgia is home to many foxes, deer, an array of insects, and different types of trees like the dogwood.

As we walked the trail the sun peered through the trees. The leaves and twigs crunched under our feet as we ran on the red Georgia clay. We were so distracted, playing that we lost track of time and how far we’d walked. We were deep in the forest, surrounded by trees but Erica suggested we walk some more.

Another five minutes passed and we began to see the area open up ahead. Curious about what was there, the four of us ran to the light. When we got there we discovered what seemed to be a picture on a stamp… it was a hidden lake! The lake was huge and looked so pretty as the late afternoon sun glistened on the water. The four of us sat down and skipped rocks until it was time to go. When we left we held onto the feeling of excitement of our day preserved in our minds forever.

If you are stressed, bored, or just curious… take a walk. Experience the natural world around you. Just maybe you’ll find a hidden lake, valley, field, mountain, or even a beach that you never knew existed in your own back yard.

Erica Baker- Hidden LAKE.mp3 1.7 MB

Sometimes you don't realize how much you depend on something until you try to give it up.  That's what Planet Harmony's Alexandria Collins learned when she tried to cast out her inner-carnivore.

Alexandria Collins: I love meat. Eating it could be considered an American pastime. Ever since I was a little girl my parents made sure that I had some sort of meat with every meal. Even with cereal, my mom wanted me to have ham or chicken to get protein. Crazy, I know. Now that I’m older and more health-conscious, I don’t want to eat meat all time.

This led me to want to become a vegetarian. About 2 months ago, I gave it a shot. I stopped eating meat—“cold turkey”. That’s the hardest thing I have ever done! When you can’t eat meat you realize how much of your food has meat in it! I lasted two days. I know that sounds horrible but I went about it totally wrong.

One of the biggest challenges didn’t come from me or the food I saw, but my family. My sisters laughed when I told them I was trying to be a vegetarian. My mom had this look of worry on her face and my dad pulled out some steak from the freezer and told me to cook dinner that night. It was hard! In the Black community we’ve grown up thinking that food defines the family. A ‘hearty’ meal defines what kind of man you are. Women are supposed to love cooking and making sure their family is full, and the only way we’ve been taught to do that is through fattening, greasy and meaty foods. It’s not healthy but at the time I didn’t have the will to see it through.

But now, I want to give it another shot. I spoke with my good friend Hannah Brooks who is a vegetarian and fellow socially conscious individual. Her advice to me is to start out small. I can’t try to stop completely or I’ll end up with the problem I had before where I craved a beef burrito more than I ever have in my entire life. She also told me to relax and think about the reasons I want to do it. Yes everyone, loving animals is a good reason, but if your conviction isn’t strong enough to move mountains, it won’t last. I’m heeding her advice and trying it again, even though I must say, it is still super hard.

But despite it all, I’m doing it. Hannah also gave me some great advice for my future family—way down the line—to secure our healthy place in the world. She said it’s important to start early. Especially with African-Americans we have to shift ourselves out of this unhealthy mindset and the more settled in our ways we become, the more difficult that is.

She’s right. Even though this bacon-lover is having a hard time adjusting, I’m doing it! Every day is a new journey towards a healthier me.

Alexandria Collins- Vegetarian.mp3 1.7 MB

The Gulf oil spill has kept people away from a once-popular fishing spots, 40 minutes from Tallahassee. Planet Harmony's Ashton Wilkins misses what used to be one of her favorite hidden getaways.

Ashton Wilkins: I remember the first time, five years ago when I stumbled upon St. Teresa, a tiny beach village on Florida’s forgotten coast. While fishing and spending time along those emerald waters, I have spent some of my most memorable college days.

The seafoam colored waters contrast sharply with hanging oaks and pine trees that line the tread.

I’ve been fishing in Florida waters since I was seven. My grandma taught me the old spit and bait method, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I have often rigged my pole deep into the sand at St. Teresa, cast my line into the ocean, and cracked a cold one… until my line started to run sideways. I’d pull silver trout, black sea bass and mackerel until I had caught too many to carry.

Fishing at St. Teresa became a home for me. I knew the good spots and was friends with some of the locals. But in May 2010 small black balls started showing up on the beach and in the water. As I waded through the shallow water, I noticed the ocean floor was scattered with tarballs of all sizes.

These were the infamous tarballs on the news-that rode around 500 miles to reach my beach from the Deepwater Horizon.

Dr. Jack Rudloe is the owner and head marine biologist at the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory, and a local activist and fisherman. He says that one of the main concerns he has for the Gulf is toxicity of the fish and what long term effects they will have on people.

He says that the water near his aquarium in neighboring Carabelle is saturated with oil and dispersants, which add to the toxicity levels in fish. He added that there is not a comparable study because there has yet to be a spill of this size.

Jack and his staff installed new tanks in their aquarium, as they can no longer rely on fresh water from the Gulf. Jack’s son Cypress, who helps out at the lab says, “There is a giant science project going on out in the Gulf right now.”

In 2011, research and updates about how the Gulf is doing are sparse. However, the locals know how fishing is going.

Roland Crum, owner of Crum Mini Mall and Bait Shop relayed to me the facts about how the North Florida coast’s fishing industry has been doing this year. “I feel that the BP effect is still causing tourists to stay home.” he says. “As far as sales go, January 2011’s numbers are down compared to last year at the same time.”

The last time that I fished St. Teresa, I found that the fish were scarce and when I grilled them the taste was different. This was the last time that I fished at my favorite spot, but I will always have hopes that a new tide will bring life back to the Gulf.

You can take a look at Ashton's fishing spot through the St. Teresa Beach Cam

Ashton Wilkins Fishing for Answers 2.mp3 1.9 MB