Jared Johnson: Miami Service 2021

Student Bio

Photo taken by Shae J/ CC by 4.0

My name is Jared Johnson and I am a 21-year old senior at Florida International University. I grew up and spent most of my life in Georgia but moved to South Florida in 2019. I am majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Business Administration. After graduation, I want to work in cybersecurity while continuing to expand my online businesses.


I volunteered at the Deering Estate to perform a Chicken Key cleanup. Deering Estate is a nature preserve located in southeast Miami-Dade county. It was originally built by Charles Deering in the 1920s, and was bought by the state of Florida in 1986. It is now a historic site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the house still contains some of the artifacts that Deering placed inside, a large amount was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Deering Estate now offers tours of the house and property as well as hosting different events throughout the year. 

Chicken Key is owned by the Deering Estate and is one of the many nature preserves located on the property. This is an uninhabited island located about 1 mile off of the shore in Biscayne Bay. It is home to plenty of wildlife and is untouched by development.

Canoes before the cleanup. Photo taken by John Bailly/ CC by 4.0


This volunteering opportunity was part of the Miami in Miami course at FIU. This cleanup excursion was organized and set up by the professor of Miami in Miami, John Bailly. Even though Chicken Key is an uninhabited island, it is still prone to a buildup of trash. In order to preserve the island and the wildlife that is there, the Miami in Miami students spent a day collecting as much trash as possible. Being a computer science major, this does not in any way relate to it. However, that does not mean that opportunities like this are not beneficial. After spending so much time in front of a computer, it is very refreshing to connect with nature and gain a different perspective. While picking up trash is not necessarily a specific interest of mine, I do enjoy doing whatever I can in my power to take care of the environment.


This was a very unique opportunity and one that was very fulfilling. I had never been on an uninhabited island before, much less helped to restore the natural ecosystem. From the moment I stepped into the canoe, I was in awe of nature and how peaceful it felt. From the sound of the wind in my ear and the paddles hitting the water, to the mangrove forest we canoed through. Then I got to Chicken Key and saw an island untouched and undeveloped by humans. Well, that is what it was supposed to be had it not been for the endless trash littering wherever I looked. It was very disturbing to see that even places that are supposed to be remote and desolate have not escaped the disaster caused by humans.

Canoeing to Chicken Key. Photo taken by John Bailly/ CC by 4.0

Where & What

On October 6, 2021 both sections of the Miami in Miami class canoed out to Chicken Key to pick up trash that had been building up on the island. Professor Bailly organized this through Deering Estate, which owns the island. We all met at the dock at 10am to gather our equipment and get in our canoes. After all our canoes were in the water and we started heading to the island, Professor Bailly had us take a detour through part of the mangrove forest. After an hour of canoeing, we all made it to Chicken Key and tied our canoes to the island. From the moment I stepped foot off the canoe, the amount of trash that had built up was astonishing. For the next 2 hours, the entire class picked up as much trash as possible and filled up multiple black trash bags. Most of the trash I collected consisted of bottle caps and plastic bottles; however, there were some obscure items found. We found what seemed to be a relatively new ramp to a dock that was floating while stuck on some roots. After we cleared out the roots we attempted to pick it up and take it back to the trash pile but it was too bulky. Someone had also found a random, green flag abandoned on the island that seemed to be hand-made. After we were done picking up trash, we loaded the trash bags onto our canoes and made our way back to the Deering Estate. 


Approved volunteer hours


Disposing of trash after cleanup. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

Overall, the volunteering opportunity was very successful. However, some things did not go as smoothly as planned. Before we even started canoeing to Chicken Key, there were not enough canoes for everyone to go in pairs of two. Since a handful of canoes had to have three people inside, not only was there less room for the trash bags, but it also required more coordination for paddling. I was in a three person canoe and there were times when we would end up turning 180 degrees unintentionally. Canoeing back to the Deering Estate was even more of a challenge. Everyone was tired from a long day and, in addition to that, the wind seemed to be working against us. 

While it was enjoyable to be outside and immersed in nature, I had forgotten to bring sunscreen. With the wind blowing while we were canoeing to Chicken Key, I did not realize until it was too late and ended up getting the worst sunburn that I can remember. This is a mistake that I plan to never make again.

While picking up trash, I focused more on searching for and picking up small items rather than larger ones since they are easier to miss. At the end of the day, I only had filled a single bag. But, since smaller items are more damaging to the environment, I was satisfied with the result. I feel that this cleanup excursion went very well and it was rewarding to be able to do my part in restoring nature, even if only temporary. I absolutely would do this again and look forward to my next opportunity. 

Jared Johnson: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Shae J./ CC by 4.0

Jared Johnson is a 21-year old senior at Florida International University. He is majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Business Administration. After graduation, he wants to work in cybersecurity while continuing to expand his online businesses.

Downtown as Text

Mouth of the Miami river. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Desecrated Land”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Downtown Miami, 08 September 2021

When people think of Miami, they might think of it as a place with endless packed beaches, or a place with expensive luxury condos and constant nightlife, or an immensely diverse city with many cultures coming together. However, very few people take a moment to reflect on what Miami used to be, and the culture of the natives, before it was developed into an urban center.

The Miami River was the source of life for the different natives that used to inhabit the area over thousands of years. As Miami became more and more urbanized, lots of the culture was lost and, in its place, tall, ominous structures were erected. However, a few artifacts are left standing today to acknowledge their impact on the community. Standing on the bridge looking around I can imagine the small communities and Tequesta tribes that used to live there. On the south side of the river, I can even see remains of an ancient village, called the Miami Circle. 

As I cross the river and enter Brickell, there is a nearby landmark which used to be the tomb of the Brickell family, who were known for bringing wealthy landowners down to Miami in the early 20th century. Directly next to it is a luxury condo building which was built on an ancient Tequesta burial mound. It is quite fitting for the tomb of the Brickell family to be next to a desecrated burial ground, representing a common theme throughout much of US history where wealthy landowners would forcefully remove natives from their land.

From now on, every time I cross the Miami river and see all the luxury high rises, I am reminded of the native tribes and the land that was stolen from them.

Overtown as Text

Greater Bethel Methodist Church. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at Overtown, 22 September 2021

All too often, people have stereotypes or preconceived notions about places without ever going to experience it for themselves. Overtown, like many other places, exists due to a history of racism and segregation. It was originally founded as a place where black people were forced to live because Flagler did not want to bring his railroad if Miami was not segregated. It was then named Colored Town. However, if you look beneath the surface, it is much more than that. It was once a cultural center for black musicians and performers, as well as the front lines of the battle for civil rights in the 1960s. 

I had the honor of visiting two historic churches in Overtown, Greater Bethel and Mount Zion, and hearing different perspectives from members of these churches. They spoke about their relation to the church and their own personal experiences. They recalled memories of their childhood about what the church was like and the important role it played in the community. The church was central to organizing events in the community and provided a place for people to come together and support each other in times of difficulty. They also served as community strongholds against civil injustice, having had Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders speak at these churches. 

Over the years, development has encroached on the town and displaced many people from their homes. From condos to roadways, the landscape of Overtown has changed from when it was a thriving community and cultural center. One of the memories recalled by a member of Mount Zion was when I-95 was under construction. The state decided to have it go directly through Overtown and gave Mount Zion the option of either having the church itself torn down or have the pastor’s house torn down. She explained that having the pastor’s house directly next to the church was important for people to gather and feel more connected to the church. Having it torn down did not only make some people feel less connected, but it also displaced the pastor and his family. 

After listening to the stories and experiences of the two guest speakers from the churches, I now have a much better understanding and appreciation for Overtown, and the role that the churches played in support for their community. In a decade or two, these two historic churches may be some of the only monuments left, in a sea of condos and commercial buildings, representing the importance of the community in Overtown. 

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya Overlooking the Garden. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Nothing and Everything”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Vizcaya, 20 October 2021

Miami is known for many things. One of its most well known qualities, for better or worse, is that it is a place where people go to display erroneous amounts of wealth, where humility is nowhere to be found. Vizcaya is a Miami landmark which captures both nothing and everything at the same time. Finished in 1914, Vizcaya was constructed to serve as the estate of James Deering, a very wealthy businessman at the time. From the moment you walk into the courtyard, it is evident that Vizcaya is a very different historical site in that it does not reflect the history of the local area. In fact, some could say that it has set the tone of Miami for a century.

As soon as you enter the back garden, you are met with Roman style arches, seemingly unfit for a mansion in the tropics. Deering was advised to not have symbols of battle on the arches since Vizcaya was in no way related to war. However, Deering had the money and liked the style of the arches, so he incorporated it anyway. This illustrates a common theme in Miami, if you have the money and can do something, you should. Upon entry into the mansion, it became clear that the out of place arches were no fluke. Each room had a different theme and design, ranging from an open concept courtyard with tropical plants to an east-Asian themed bedroom. Deering did not have a family of his own to hang portraits on the wall. So in place of this, he hung portraits of children and people whose name was Deering, but there was no relation. There was no single style or theme to be found anywhere in Vizcaya, other than wealth and indulgence itself. 

I feel that Vizcaya, in all of its magnificent glory, truly encapsulates the stereotype that many people have of Miami. That alone makes Vizcaya a true Miami landmark.

South Beach as Text

South Pointe Beach. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0


By Jared Johnson of FIU at South Beach, 3 November 2021

South Beach is a place that is known throughout the world for having a massive party scene and nightlife. While it does have these things, it is also much more. South Beach is a place with a dark history, tourists from all over the globe, and world famous architecture styles. 

Originally, Miami Beach, and Miami itself, were small communities where everyone knew each other and there was no widespread segregation. When Flagler came down with the railroad, segregation quickly followed. Shortly after, Carl Fisher started buying up all of the land to turn Miami Beach into a tourist destination where only white people were allowed to live. Fisher’s development ended up destroying the mangrove forest on the island which led to all sorts of environmental problems. 

As Miami Beach endured multiple development booms, three main architectural styles emerged over the decades. Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco, and MiMo are the main styles you will encounter walking around South Beach. Each style is very unique and distinct. Mediterranean Revival style is known for tile roofing, stucco walls, and window grilles. This was already present in Miami at the time, as seen in Vizcaya. Art Deco is the style that Miami Beach is likely most known for. This style consists of geometric shaped buildings, white facades with pastel highlights, and glass bricks. Architects of this era wanted to shape buildings to resemble machines from the future. The third, and most recent, style is MiMo. This is a modern style consisting of lots of glass windows and curvy architecture. 

Personally, Art Deco is my least favorite of the three different architectural styles. However, I can appreciate its presence in Miami Beach as one of the only areas with such a high concentration of Art Deco buildings.

Deering Estate as Text

The Original Cutler Road. Photo taken by Jared Johnson/ CC by 4.0

“Natural Miami”

By Jared Johnson of FIU at Deering Estate, 17 November 2021

The Deering Estate was built by Charles Deering in the 1920s to serve as his personal estate. It now serves as basically a nature preserve where it essentially represents a time machine to what Miami would have looked like had it not been developed. It consists of 8 different ecosystems, home to a plethora of wildlife. The ecosystems in Deering Estate are: Salt Marsh, Beach Dune Chicken Key, Remnant Slough, Tropical Hardwood Hammock, Pine Rockland, Submerged SeaGrass Beds, Deering Estate Flow-way, and Mangroves. 

The most notable ecosystems that we walked through were the Pine Rockland and the Mangrove forest. One thing that I thought was absolutely fascinating was the fact that the trees in the Pine Rockland actually require forest fires in order to preserve their ecosystem. This could prove to be problematic when you have this ecosystem in such close proximity to urban areas. So the entities managing these ecosystems have had to perform controlled fires, sometimes spanning for miles. The mangrove forest caught my attention just because it was so different from what I had been used to seeing most of my life. There is very little solid ground and it is essentially a forest growing in brackish water. Inside the mangrove forest we found a plane from the 1980s that had crash landed, presumably used in drug trafficking. 

The Deering Estate also houses many burial grounds for ancient tribes, some dating back at least 10,000 years. We were able to visit an archaeological site that is believed to be a burial ground and, due to privacy concerns, a site that less than 500 people had been able to visit. This was an experience that was hard for me to wrap my mind around. 

Over the years Miami has evolved significantly, but the land preserved by the Deering Estate has remained unchanged. Everyone should take the time to visit and understand what the land really looked like, before it was taken hostage by development.

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