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125: Justin J. Pearson, TN State Representative District 86

Guest Name(s): Justin J. Pearson

A Rising Star, State Representative Justin J. Pearson is a devoted to getting Climate Justice and Racial Justice for all Americans! Justin personifies courage and faith in action. Justin was EXPELLED from the State House in Tennessee for protesting gun violence on the floor of the legislature. This didn’t stop Justin it has emboldened him to advocate even more for the most disadvantaged people in our society.

Memphis Community Against Pollution >>

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Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP) is a Black-led grassroots movement in Memphis, Tennessee that fought and beat Valero Energy Corporation and Plains All American’s Byhalia Connection Pipeline, a proposed crude oil pipeline that would cut through Southwest Memphis communities already burdened by decades of environmental injustice…
Justin J. Pearson is a community organizer in Memphis, TN and a servant leader who prioritizes people and our community. Justin is an approachable, accessible, reliable, responsive, and honest person who will serve every one in District 86 as their State House Representative. Justin has been an advocate since his high school days where he demanded the Board of Education provide textbooks to Mitchell High School to his days leading the fight to stop the multibillion dollar pipeline from running through Memphis. Justin is the leader we need for District 86…
Member, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee of 1st Extraordinary Session Member, Education Instruction of 1st Extraordinary Session Member, Local Government Committee of 1st Extraordinary Session Member, Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee of 1st Extraordinary Session Member, Elections & Campaign Finance Subcommittee of 1st Extraordinary Session
125: Justin J. Pearson, TN State Representative District 86

ACC #125 – Justin J. Pearson – A Climate Change with Matt Matern

You’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern. I’ve got representative Justin Pearson, a state representative from Tennessee – the Volunteer State, on the show today, Justin was expelled from the House of Representatives for protesting gun violence. He was elected at age 28, to be one of the youngest state legislators in Tennessee.

You know, as a young kid, I was kind of raised to be kind of anti-gun I, my dad was very much against the use of guns. So I’ve never had a gun, fired a gun. And so I’m, I’m totally behind you on that one. I was very impressed by your co founding of an environmental group, Memphis Community Against Pollution, that successfully helped get a pipeline canceled.

And you brought, helped bring in Al Gore, former vice president, and Danny Glover, Jane Fonda, kind of bunch of heavy hitters and the community, the concerns of the community were that the pipeline were polluted and acqui, an aquifer as well as other areas. And the pipeline owner said that the plan route was chosen because it was, quote, “the path of least resistance.” And this path was through a historically black neighborhood.

And the pipeline company didn’t consider the potential contamination to the drinking water of over a million residents. And so I think that was an incredible win. Just I thought it was great that you got reelected after you were expelled by the Republican majority there. So it’s great that your constituents had the last word and stood by you. I’m excited to have you on the program to talk about a host of issues.

The one in particular is environmental, racial justice, and how historically, heavy polluting industries have been located in areas where black communities have lived. And this pollution has poisoned the people who are living here, there. So obviously, this is a very serious issue. And I’m so glad to have you on the show to talk about it. And welcome, Justin.

Thank you so much, Matt for having me. You know, my start into this social justice movement really was spurred by the environmental justice movement that was locked here in Memphis, and catalyzed by the fight against Byhalia Pipeline. And the reality is a lot of these movements are intersectional. Right, the places that are most polluted places, most policed places have highest level of gun violence, most poverty. And so I believe the environmental and climate justice movements really are an opportunity for us to build solidarity and also to build movements across so many different demographics.

So tell us a little bit about your backstory and how you came to this position of leadership. And, you know, obviously, you’re still pretty young guy, but what, what was kind of the origin story for you, Justin?

Yeah, I mean, I give a lot of credit to my grandmother’s, my grandmother, Gwen, my grandmother Pearson, for who I have become and who my family has become. They were true, black women, Southern matriarchs, who helped instill a lot of family values from faith to family to service into us. You know, my grandma, and my grandmother’s was a nurse, the other was a school bus driver. And they raised my parents, who were actually teenage parents, and to who they who they are, you know, they had six kids and five kids respectively.

My grandfather’s had divorced them when my parents were relatively young, and yet they still built this family, they still built community, in spite of those things. And it worked. It propelled my parents, who again, they had my first brother at 16 and 15 years old, to faith and went to church, Mississippi Boulevard, they heard a sermon, or Matt called Vision 2010 is of the sermon where I thought it, I called it, I saw it, I bought it and now I’ve gotten it preached by Dr. Ave, Neil Jackson, and these this story, this sermon becomes sort of the bedrock, the foundation of my family origins onto the path that we’re on now.

And my parents earn bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees. My mother is now earning her doctorate degree in education. And remember, they’re doing this even though they had just previously been working at McDonald’s and minimum wage jobs, but they really had opportunity, an opportunity to have education as the the ladder to help raise us out of poverty and the conditions in which we found ourselves I often say I was born financially poor but spirit It’s really rich and that, that faith, that spirit really did fill us up. And always giving back to the community was a part of who we are. And what we did.

You know, even when we didn’t have much when we had the food, canned drives and things in middle school that I’d helped put on as part of student government. We always gave can we always did, you know, whatever we could to contribute, realizing that there was always other folks who were in a worse predicament and truth than we were. But I was 15, when I gave my first speech, to really powerful group of people. And it was to demand textbooks. We were denied textbooks and teachers in certain classrooms.

I mean, I had moved from Virginia, where my dad went to Howard University, down to Memphis. And we really didn’t have the same resources that I just had living in Virginia, for several years. And so I went before the school board, and I said, there’s no way that we’re going to get a college degree. And we don’t even have an opportunity to get textbooks from the school.

And so after that, over the next two days, to 18, wheelers filled with textbooks, came to our school for every subject for every student. And I realized, you know, just the power of advocacy, the power of speaking up the power of elevating our voices for issues that matter and for change, and I have continued to persist it in that in college came back and ran in education program.

And it’s no coincidence that this same area, the same place where I went to school is the same community, that was called the path of least resistance by the pipeline company, right. And so this is the neighborhood where I’m from Westwood. There’s something about the sense of place, there’s something about the places that have been deprived of access to opportunities and resources, that oftentimes do become the places that get picked on by fossil fuel corporations, and by corporate giants, who don’t care about our communities.

Yeah, it’s unfortunate to those, those companies have so much power politically to just bend the forces to their will, and they pay out so much money to representatives around the country. So they grease the wheels and, and unfortunately, have allowed, you know, a lot of projects have been green lighted that they shouldn’t been green lighted, but just a lot of things to unpack and what you said, I really liked the spiritually rich line that you had, which is, which is beautiful, I just think that’s it’s a great way of phrasing it.

And it’s a great outlook on life, that that’s the more important thing than monetary riches is spiritual riches. And, you know, as a former McDonald’s worker, I can kind of relate to do mom and that respect, obviously, you know, other things may be different for both of us.

But you know, I do believe the working and finding a way and getting educated is is the way to empowerment, and and also an amazing story of view at 15. Demanding textbooks and what what a great lesson to, to young people out there to to speak up and you’re never too young to have a voice you know, okay, Greta Thunberg, she was just an elementary school kid and just saying, hey, no, we’re not going to take it anymore. Just I love that. So. So where are where did you? Where did you pivot to next after coming out of college?

Yeah, I mainly after school, I started to do work and economic empowerment. So one of the things that is so important in this society, right is economic justice and economic justice is tied up with racial justice is tied up with social justice. And if people do not have the economic resources to deal with their day to day lives, the oppression that is faced from poverty becomes even more crushing. Health care, incidences or scares really have even more significant impact.

And so I know that economic justice is tied up in how people are able to have a level of freedom. The the harm, or the danger of exploitative capitalism is that it takes away people’s time. It’s a theft of time. And if you have to work 80 hours a week, instead of 40 hours a week, you lose a whole lot of things, you lose the ability to go to the baseball league with your child, you lose the opportunity to go home and practice the times tables, you lose so much when you don’t have economic justice.

And so right after college, I started to work on helping small businesses to grow. And then I did and worked into a $200 million nonprofit called year up a national organization that did workforce development to give people a have access to an opportunity to have jobs in corporate America so they can have financial stability in their lives, kids, people who are from the ages of 18 to 29. And now my brother is even in that program. And so I believe that’s still an important foundation for people to have.

Well, absolutely. And I think that what you’re talking about makes a lot of sense. I mean, obviously, if, if you have less time to build your community, build your family, because you are just living from paycheck to paycheck. It’s, it’s impossible to kind of, you know, build any kind of wealth or just, as you mentioned, health care, I mean, and then something kind of near and dear to my heart is food and getting good food into people’s diet.

And, and of course, we have all these food deserts. And, quite frankly, one of my things is that we would be well served as a nation to kind of subsidize, getting really good food and every on everybody’s table, because you think of the health care costs $330 billion a year we spending on diabetes treatment. Well, if we gave kids better food, you know, they wouldn’t be getting diabetes. But that’s, that’s yet another level of this.

So anyway, everybody, we’ve got representative Justin Pearson on the program, you’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern. And we’ll be right back in just a minute to talk to Justin about a host of issues that Justin is working on.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got representative Justin J. Pearson on the program out of Tennessee, the great state and the Volunteer State. So tell me next, Justin, we were talking about your college experience. So and coming out of college and working for the nonprofit. Where did you pivot to next after that?

Yeah, I mean, that one of the most significant things that have happened to most of our lives, right has been COVID. And so after working at your OP, while I was in Boston, COVID happened and I moved home. I thought I was going to be moving for a couple of weeks. And it’s turned into several years since three years now. And it was really the experience of going home and being home or reconnected, one of my other brothers moved home, and then another one than another one.

So four out of five of us ended up being at home in Memphis, with my parents during COVID. And that’s actually when we also had right this summer filled with black deaths of George Floyd breonna Taylor ahmaud arbery, Rashard Brooks. And a lot of questions were being asked about black life and the experience that black folks were having, and why it was so different than white folk in this country. And at the same time, right, we’ve got this global pandemic that’s happening. And at the start of it, everybody was saying, this can impact anybody.

Right? It’s indiscriminate, rich or poor, black or white, or Asian or Latino, anybody they can, it can impact anybody. But then we start to learn as the months went on, that, that virus, it actually wasn’t as equal opportunity, as we assumed, right? That if you had comorbidities and you mentioned some of these just a moment ago, dealing with diabetes, if you have high blood pressure, if you have those things happening, then you are more likely to die from COVID.

And so we’re figuring out more about this virus that we learned disproportionately kills low income folks, disproportionately kills black African American folks. And then we’re dealing in the summer where black people have been killed all across the country, on non black people. And then our community learns about this project called the Byhalia connection pipeline. And we learned that they are looking to build a pipeline through our community.

Bringing oil from Oklahoma, down through Memphis, down through Mississippi, to the the Gulf down into Louisiana. In the connections right of a virus that quite literally takes your breath away, connect it to a project that will put more pollutants into the air because of the Valero oil refinery. And the experience black people were having.

And the the the combined consciousness raising of I think a lot of folks in our community and across this country led to the movement really being catalyzed by the late representative Dr. Barbara Ward Cooper, who was the state representative of district 86, before I had the opportunity to serve in this position, but who really forced that pipeline company by Hayley connection pipeline and Valero Energy Corporation, to come to Memphis and to hear the voices of the community.

And now October 17 2020, was the day that m cap, the first community against the pipeline had a name change signs, but MIPS communicates the pipeline was launched. But I believe after my experience in Boston, and I lived in I still continue to do work, fortunately, right. Working from home, during the pandemic, I was able to really be home and be more proximate to this problem that I didn’t even know was happening, but had been in the works for at least a year, before I moved back.

Well, I had recently been talking to somebody I because I have an environmental case against Exxon about pipeline pipeline maps here in Los Angeles. And I was surprised to see the pipelines just criss crossing all over neighborhoods underneath our feet, and dangerous chemicals, as well as crude oil being transported all over the place that most of us, it’s certainly me, I had no idea of what was happening.

That’s exactly right. And I mean, the pipeline company, brought out that map. And they said, What’s one more pipeline? Right? You got dozens criss crossing all around this city? You know, what’s one more going to do? And you know, what our response was, you know, if you’re trying to quit smoking, you don’t just say, hey, here’s one more cigarette, right? What’s one more going to do? You stop the problem, right, and you do everything that you can to prevent from contributing to it.

And the reality is, it’s not just about there being one more pipeline, it’s about the hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon that are going to be produced and Tibet, the land that is going to be lost, it’s about the water that’s going to be polluted. It’s about the consequences of having these pipeline projects that are going to have lasting effects well after our lifetime, because of what it does to the climate. And well after our lifetime, because of what happens to those pipes.

And one of the things we learned in our case against Byhalia connection pipeline and planes all American was they forced people to write costs, right in their contracts, that the company had no liability for anything going wrong with the pipelines. And after they were the pipeline would be out of use, it would be able to stay in the ground in place in perpetuity, and so it woulda coulda rode over the decades to come, it would ultimately pollute the land in which it was placed.

And there would be no responsibility from the corporation to come and get that pipeline out of the ground. And so what would ultimately end up happening is the pipeline that would be defunct and now out of use 25 or so years from now, as we continue to move toward more more clean energy. And my hope and prayer is that once that became defunct, that pipeline would corrode, it would destroy that environment, and it would ultimately become polluted land. And so their property values would plummet. And that area around it would be more polluted than it would have been had the pipeline never been placed.

Yeah, it’s fascinating stuff. And I, you know, I think that this is something that is going to come become a big issue going forward. I was curious as to what your faith has done to kind of motivate you in the environmental arena, you know, a central spiritual tenant is Do unto others as you would have done to you. And it seems as though polluting the land is not kind of the thing that we should do unto others. You don’t hear a whole lot of that out there in the conversation. Do you bring your faith into this conversation much?

Certainly. I mean, we pray before our meetings, we have pastors at every rally we’ve ever held to pray at the beginning and to pray at the end every march, prayer and our connection to our faith. And Christianity is my faith that I practice, but to all faiths that believe in love that believe in the protecting of the environment, the care for the environment is deeply important, because the battles that we’re fighting it’s not just with multibillion dollar corporations, right we’re fighting against with with a tag of what the Bible says is principalities and wickedness in high places.

There are systems that are in place that are undergirding the injustice is that we are experiencing. I’ve got good colleagues of mine fighting the mountain valley pipeline. And just recently, President Biden signed into law that the mountain valley pipeline could be expedited. And the only reason he signed that into law was because Senator Joe Manchin, called the CEO of the Mountain Valley pipeline, wrote this and handed it to President Biden and said, If you don’t do this, well, I’m not going to be supporting any of the policies that you have going forward.

And so you have really three or four people who just dictated what would happen to millions of people’s water, and millions of people’s land across three different states. That isn’t what democracy looks like, that is not what justice looks like. But that is what wickedness in high places looks like. When you have these, it’s a real form of evil, to see the planet be attacked, and people be attacked, and not be supported by those who are in positions of power to do something.

And so when I think about our faith, and my faith practices, I mean, if it hadn’t been for God, if it hadn’t been for Jesus, I assure you, I would not be here, there’s a saying, and our church, nobody but Jesus, you know, my parents didn’t have a whole lot of money didn’t have a whole lot of exposure to a lot of the things that I have now been been fortunate to see and to experience, but God has been faithful to us. And when you look at what we are supposed to do, it is to have dominion over the planet is not to have domination over it. Right? It is to be caretakers for this planet.

And we have failed in doing that. And unfortunately, our planet is suffering because of it. And for anyone who does have faith or does have a belief in something that is bigger than themselves. It also calls you and causes you to do things differently than the status quo. And I believe in this moment in time, we are being forced, and we have been called to do something differently than continue to allow the proliferation of fossil fuels in our communities.

And to we have to stop allowing the proliferation of toxic release inventory facilities in our communities. And we’re being called as a people as a human species to stand up for the trees and to stand up for the other four legged creatures and no legged creatures of the sea and of the lakes to because that is God’s vision.

Well, I hear you there. And I guess the question is, power. How are you doing that in the legislature? How are you doing that in the community? And what can we all do to help? Certainly, I’ve had lots of guests on the show that are working on a lot of these issues. And these are very challenging issues. And they challenge all of us to to think differently, to act differently.

And so, when we come back from the break, we’ll talk to Representative Justin J. Pearson, about these issues, which are so important facing the whole world. And the consequences are, are biblical in nature. So we’ll be right back. You’re listening into A Climate Change with Matt Matern.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Representative Justin J. Pearson on the program. Justin, before the break, we were talking about engaging in the movement in terms of legislation, community action, political action, to change the environment to clean up our environment, so many different levels that challenges us all. What, what do you see happening there in Tennessee, what efforts are you leading? What’s on your radar screen right now?

Yeah, I mean, this effort to protect our climate in our environment is going to have to happen at every level. The reality is, we are not out of time to solve the climate crisis. But we are out of time for people to be on the bench during this crisis. Whether you look at the fires that ravaged Maui, you look at the severity of the hurricane happening down in Florida, where anything that’s on the news now you can look at wildfires that happened earlier this year in Canada that impacted the breathing and the air quality in New York, and Washington, DC.

I mean, all across our globe, we are seeing the need for us to do something significant, something drastic about the climate crisis. And one of the main things we must continue to do as people of consciousness people who care is speak the truth about what is going on. This is not normal. The conditions that we are being forced to live in with these 100 degree plus days with these wildfires with these floods, this is not the way that things should be.

And this is an exact effect of climate change. And it’s because of the lack of conscious and courage of people who are in positions of power to act to do things meaningfully. And so I’ve kind of got two thoughts, one being for folks who are organizing locally, it’s so extraordinarily important. pipeline companies in the fossil fuel industry are most terrified of people organizing locally, because they have the most proximity, the most care the most concern about the place, they know that they can’t be bought out or sold out. And they won’t give up easily.

We have to organize, mobilize and activate at the local level. And so whether that’s joining a chapter of the Sierra Club, or starting your own nonprofit organization, as we did down here in Memphis, now is the time to act to build up our efficacy to local government, county governments, state governments and to the national government, about the need to have more renewable energy about the need to not allow for polluters to continue to pollute our communities, our waterways in the ways that they are. And it’s to show a force that we care about the future and the generations that are going to be behind us.

You know, a lot of our siblings in the indigenous community talk about the seven generations, you always have to pay homage to the generations that have come before you pay homage to the seven generations that are going to come after you. And what are we doing for the seven generations that are coming after us?

How are we serving the seven generations of human beings that are going to be on this planet that is going to be on this land that we currently call the United States of America, what are we doing in order to ensure that seven generations from now they will be living in a place that is more whole in a place that is more safe, and a place where they don’t worry about the air that they breathe, or the water that they drink being polluted, whether that be in Flint, or they’ll be here in Memphis, Tennessee, and so we have to continue to organize ourselves locally and build our power and build our strength.

And it’s possible to do that, and I’ve been a witness to it, whether it be the southern Environmental Law Center, or Project Ark, or for Black Millionaires for Flint, or Climate Reality Project, it is possible for us to organize. And it is also true that we cannot stop at just marching and are protesting and our advocacy, we have to have leaders in positions of power, who care about our communities.

And as a legislator, I’ve prioritized the issue of climate change as one of the top issues for our office to deal with. And it’s because I am deeply aggrieved here in the state of Tennessee, by the actions of the legislature, a lot of their policies been toward the will of the Tennessee Valley Authority or to other folks who want more fracked gas or who want more a crude oil instead of leaving it in the ground.

And so I definitely have prioritized this as an issue. And you have to realize there are people who are against us in this fight. I had a one member colleague, just this past session, in January, go before the entire body and say climate change is not real. This is this is what we are up against. And it is not it’s not fictional. It’s not fake. This is real. And we have to have people who are in these legislative bodies and who are in these executive positions who are going to stand up and to speak up for the people who are most proximate.

I applaud the Biden administration on several things when it does things right like the our IRA contributions and Justice40, an initiative to give more money to environmental justice communities. But we have to be honest that the the the the projects like the willow project, being approved by this administration, is going to devastate the climate is going to devastate our relatives in different parts of this country.

And it’s mostly going to impact people. That’s what we have to talk about. We talked about the environmental justice, struggle and climate justice struggle here, Matt. It’s going to impact people the most who had the least to do with the creation of the problem.

Right, so poor people are hurt the most black people, indigenous people, communities of color, are going to suffer the most harms because of climate change and because of environmental injustice, despite the fact that they are reaping the fewest economic or even social benefits from what has been created or done in the first place, which is why we have to hold these polluters accountable. We have to make polluters pay for their pollution. We have to hold our elected leaders accountable for ensuring we have clean air and clean water and clean soil.

We have a responsibility to make sure that we elect leaders who are going to put that vision forward, have a cleaner climate and have more just environmentally just communities because a lot of communities have been on the front lines of this as well as Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali says a lot of communities have been sacrifice zones for polluters, because people have not paid attention to those communities because of who lives there, not just what is there?

Well, I think it’s well said that polluters have to pay for the cost of their pollution. And up to this point in time, polluters have not paid the cost, anywhere near the cost of their pollution every so often, they might get slapped on the wrist here or there. But the true cost of their pollution is in the trillions of dollars, and they haven’t paid that cost. And, and that to have true justice. And in a system, that would be just, they would have to pay that cost.

I had a guest on the program recently, Melissa Sims, who is suing Exxon and all the major oil companies for, you know, putting so much CO2 into the atmosphere that exacerbated the hurricane Maria. And that would be a great example of the polluters maybe being held accountable for the true cost of their of their policies, which they knew, they absolutely knew that this was going to happen. They had it in their own internal memorandum, that this is these types of things would happen.

So I also really liked what you said, it’s, we we don’t have, we are not out of time, but there’s no time to sit on the bench. So we all have to get in the game. So that’s, that’s a beautiful phraseology. And I think an optimistic but also realistic, that we can’t sit on the bench any longer.

Because quite frankly, I know I sat on the bench for a number of decades, just kind of watching it. Seeing “okay, it looks bad. It looks so it’s actually getting a little worse, you know, oh, my God, it’s really getting terrible. And maybe I should do something.” So there’s no more time for just kind of fiddling around.

That’s exactly right. And I mean, it’s not that folks have to do anything extra ordinary, right? Sometimes it is just showing up to a meeting and getting your voice heard. Sometimes it’s scheduling that meeting with the state representative or the City Council or the county commissioner, or your public utility and saying, How are you all thinking about climate change, as it relates to how our city or a county or state is going to survive.

And it’s important that we all use our privileges that we do have to force those conversations to be had, and choosing a social location, with the people who are going to be impacted the most matters, I think often about our unhoused population, dealing with these extreme weather with with this extreme weather and how hot it is here in the south and Memphis, in particular, and how are they going to survive?

Are folks going to survive if their air conditioning isn’t working, and we don’t even have fan programs to help cool people down. We have to start legislating, not from the place of privilege, but we legislate from the people who have been denied those privileges. We legislate from the people who are most socio-economically oppressed. We legislate from the periphery.

The folks who have been pushed to the periphery, not from the people who have privilege. And when we do that, we come up with the solutions that are more fair, and more just, and the reality is this is has got to be a intersectional, intergenerational, multi generational type of movement.

And Heather McGee writes in her book, The some of us she writes off and about building the solidarity dividend, right in most movements and all movements for America’s future. It has been the solidarity dividend why folks and black folks, rich folk, poor folk, organizing galvanizing together that have helped to disrupt the status quo. And we have to have such a movement for environmental and climate justice as well.

Absolutely, we all need to work together. And there is a tremendous dividend. So everybody, I think that it’s important to kind of talk about the tremendous benefits that we can have, as a society to have clean air to have clean water, obviously, that’s invaluable that’s worth more than anything else. So we need, we need to, we need to play up the benefits of this there are all kinds of clean jobs that can be created, if we focus on creating clean energy.

So so on and so forth. And, and quite frankly, that money isn’t the end all and be all that, that looking at these things in terms of the health of our citizens, is is something more important than money. And that’s that’s the problem that I see in in many people out there is focusing on “hey, what is the monetary gain without seeing?” Well, the true cost of polluting our land is is beyond money.

So you’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got representative Justin J. Pearson on the program. We’ll be right back with Justin talking about the issues that are facing him and in Tennessee and across the planet.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got representative Justin J. Pearson on the program of the great State of Tennessee. Justin, tell us about maybe your four heroes that you would put on your personal Mount Rushmore that kind of inspire and motivate you.

Yeah, that’s awesome. I was listening to a sermon once by Dr. Cornel West who have diverged on in some of his ideas more recently, but when my dad was attending Howard University, I heard him preach a sermon. And he said, your heroes must be touchable.

These have to be people that you can, you can touch, and who you can ask questions to who you can talk with. And two of mine would be my parents, Dr. Kimberly Owens, Pearson and Reverend Jason C. Pearson And to be my grandmother’s who have now gone on to glory.

But they have been so integral to and into integral to the story of my life. Because I learned during the pipeline fight, Matt, that they both died from cancer. I knew that. But I learned that in our neighborhood, the cancer risk was 4.1 times the national average. Because we have 17 Toxic Release Inventory facilities around our neighborhood of Westwood and Barksdale.

And so they were victims, to environmental injustice and environmental racism. There themselves, and we didn’t know those words, or really understand them before. We knew the smells, we knew those types of things, but we didn’t know or didn’t connect the illnesses that we were seeing in our own loved ones with environmental racism, and we do now.

And so it’s particularly as I think about this movement, I think about them, and I do you think about my parents often and kind of what they have endured, in order for my brothers and I to be who we are and where we are, you know, it was not an easy path. And as I heard, when leaflets say once his he was told, you know, if the mountain was smooth, you couldn’t climb it. They came up with some rough sides of the mountain, but they are remain touchable.

Jesus’s taught to Christ to me, and good signposts and guide on this journey toward justice. And with a deep hearted and deep seated belief that what is happening right now, in our world, in our country, in our state, and our city, that is wrong, does not have to be this way. And putting forward a faith that always says, there is a better way, there is a different way that is also possible. And that is also attainable. If we work toward it, if we fight for it. If we give all the we’ve got to it.

That’s beautiful. And I love the hero’s must much the touchable. And I think that that’s a good thing to kind of keep in mind because sometimes I think of heroes as these distant mythical almost figures in history and, and, you know, in some ways, that’s why I like to read biography because you start to see, hey, they are real human, you know, they had they were not just all perfect, and it’s good to remind ourselves that heroes don’t always have to be kind of perfect. On their walk on the path. I was going to ask you, you know, can you recall a time in that you spent in nature is maybe a young person, that you felt really connected and it kind of inspired you and describe how it felt for you?

Yeah, so before I started college, I actually had the opportunity to do a, so it was a week long pre-orientation, or if you don’t, Morris Farm, which I always want to work on a farm, so it was just great. But the memory that comes to mind, I had never been somewhere that was actually on a farm where there were no lights. And so there was no light pollution. And I went outside the first night or vividly went outside. And I looked at all of the stars and it said still, to this day is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.

Because it just, you just felt like you could see the Milky Way you could see everything, it just felt like you could see the creation itself. And other folks started to come outside. And then I grabbed my sleeping bag. And I went outside, and I slept under the stars and with the stars, everyone else went inside, it was a little cold, so I get it, but I slept outside. And I just I was mesmerised in a way that I have never been in nature with nature and in nature.

And I still cherish that. Because even though so many things seem so big, you just remember that there is a galaxy, and galaxies and galaxies. The beautiful stars that you really can’t count out there and above us and surrounding us and wrapping us literally in light. And and that was his extraordinary moment that that I still I still cherish.

But yeah, it’s a beautiful story, I had kind of a similar moment, I went to kind of camping out in Death Valley with some friends and having a hard time kind of sleeping and I went out to try out our picnic table. And it was just that blanket of stars where you can see the Milky Way up there. And so little light pollution.

And it is just unbelievable. Because we don’t we don’t normally see that being city, folks. Because there’s so much light pollution here in Los Angeles, you’re lucky to see, you know, a handful of stars, let alone a galaxy, across the sky.

So just wanted to ask you another question about that experience, what’s something that you could do to recreate that feeling of being out under that blanket of stars, that awe and wonder that you aren’t doing already that you can commit to making the world a cleaner, greener place. And, and I know that you’re already out there doing all kinds of amazing work.

So I’m kind of asking you what some, you know, maybe it doesn’t have to be a huge thing, or maybe a little thing, a modest thing, a personal thing, what anything that comes to mind, you know what, I think I got to start doing more spending more time in nature. Because to be honest with you, the job in and of itself is stressful, and we’ve been either in session or campaigning for the last nine months, actually haven’t had a whole lot of time.

And so, I think as part of a recommitment, kinda to the calls, might be a deeper read, deepening, if I can say that, and appreciation for the creation, itself. And so, there’s even in our district, as a Shelby forest. And so, you know, once a week, especially when I’m home, I should, I should go at night or go for walks during the day to go see some deer and some doe and, and really, recommit by continuing to recognize that the beauty of nature, so I appreciate that question.

Why thank you for engaging in this exercise. It kind of comes from a guy who’s a mentor of mine, Joshua Spodek, who had me on his podcast, he was on my podcast, he’s kind of a sustainability guru, who is all about kind of taking, you know, personal responsibility for sustainability and reducing our level of waste and all that personally so we can be better leaders.

So kind of like that integrity of doing the you know, not only just talking the talk, but for us to walk the walk. And I think that that’s so important and tell us a little bit about you and how you how you walk the walk. We know you talk the talk, but look, I love that and I love having the personal fortitude to help continue to push for the corporations that produce most of the pollution to be responsible as well.

But personally, something my fiance Oceana R. Gilliam and I are pretty serious about but we can continue to do is dealing with our recycling and actually getting more people in our complex to join us on that journey. And we’re hoping this fall to start our composting work. We we got a lot to learn, but we’re gonna start a garden. And so we’re gonna learn how to do that.

I love that. Yeah, it’s I think that always, you know, gain from taking the small actions just like you said, I think it was really beautiful, super powerful. And something I need to remember is stay local a lot of times and do things that are local and connect to our local communities. People like me try to you know, think grandiosity, sometimes like, hey, I want to change the entire world.

But you know, starting with the local stuff is great. I want to thank you, Representative Justin J. Pearson for being on the show, please go check out his social media channels follow him. You know, he’s gonna be a rising star in the east I can just I can just tell it.

Even better, go out and volunteer and take action in your communities. Find an organization, a political leader and start being the change you want to see in the world. Follow us at aclimatechange.com, listen in on Spotify, Apple, iHeart. We’ve got 100+ episodes out there with great guests.

We’ve got Katharine Hayhoe, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe coming on the program next week and a noted environmental scientist and also a Christian. So kind of continuing on that theme of Christianity and environmental science kind of going hand in hand.

Thanks for listening. Let’s take action together and save our planet.

Thank you again, Justin.

Thank you so much, Matt.


(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)

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