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Renowned 'Planetwalker' Visits Five Point Film Festival

Dr. John Francis
National Geographic
Dr. John Francis

Throughout his time on the road and in institutions of higher education, Dr. Francis says that his mission of conservation and preservation of the natural world has evolved into a message that is greater and all encompassing, kindness.

"If we could practice kindness Um, we learn and, and just open our hearts to who we are.
The kindness will kind of direct us. You will find a place that you can express yourself and be the person that you are. But it's a practice, you know, you can try and say, Oh gosh, I, I didn't make it that time. Each morning I get up, I think of three things. One is gratitude, just to be here. Um, love, because it's this feeling that we share with each other, that we can share. And forgiveness, so that, you know, we can forgive ourselves."

Dr. Francis spoke in the Carbondale Rec Center after his special appearance at the festival. Francis grew up in a small town on the Gulf of San Francisco. In 1979, two oil tankers from the Standard Oil Company of California collided in the Gulf, resulting in a massive ecological disaster. This was the catalyst for Francis to give up traveling by motorized vehicle. Soon after this, he decided to stop speaking and listen more. He then began his journey across the country on foot, communicating in his own unique sign language.
As a black man walking across the country in the 80s, his friends and family were worried about his safety and well being. But Francis says that kindness is a universal language that allowed him to pass safely and pursue higher education.

"As an African American back in those times, it was very dangerous, they thought. And I found that kindness transcended all of the walls that we put in front of ourselves. The fact that I made it across America, it's still smiling and that I was able to get an education all the way up to a PhD without having any money, how was I able to go to school without people's kindness and saying, Gee, wouldn't it be great if this guy went to art school and studied, but he doesn't speak, and he walked here."

Dr. Francis ended his vow of silence on Earth Day in 1990. That same year, he worked for the United States Coast Guard writing oil spill regulations following the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Francis is the founder and director of Planet Walk, a non profit organization that promotes environmental awareness and the author of many books, including the children's book Human Kindness, stories of kind acts both big and small.

Lily Jones is a recent graduate of Mississippi State University, with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and a concentration in Broadcasting and Digital Journalism. At WMSV, MSU's college radio station, Jones served as the Public Affairs and Social Media Coordinator. In her spare time Lily likes to go to the gym and watercolor.