"Nature is For Everyone": Black Birders Week Celebrates Black Naturalists
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"Nature is For Everyone": Black Birders Week Celebrates Black Naturalists

In response to the racist harassment of Christian Cooper in Central Park, the inaugural Black Birders Week is taking Twitter by storm through elevating Black outdoor enthusiasts and providing some much-needed relief from the news cycle.

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"Nature is For Everyone": Black Birders Week Celebrates Black Naturalists

"You're an endangered species—extinction looms" was the final rule outlined by J. Drew Lanham, a Black nature lover and writer, in his 2013 article "9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher." Among the others were rules such as "Don't bird in a hoodie. Ever." and "Nocturnal birding is a no-no."

An incident in New York City showed that Lanham's rules are unfortunately still as relevant now as they were seven years ago. Christian Cooper was birding in Central Park when he politely asked a woman to leash her dog in accordance with park rules aimed at protecting critical habitat for native flora and fauna. The woman, Amy Cooper, refused to do so. When Mr. Cooper began to video the confrontation, Ms. Cooper proceeded to call the police and tell them that there was an African-American man threatening her life.

Since the video of the confrontation went viral, several city officials have called for Ms. Cooper's arrest. Additionally, she's been fired from her job and has surrendered her dog to a local rescue agency. In an interview with the New York Times, Mr. Cooper said "If this painful process...helps to correct, or takes us a step further toward addressing the underlying racial, horrible assumptions that we African-Americans have to deal with, and have dealt with for centuries, that this woman tapped into, then it's worth it."

Within days of the incident, a collective of about thirty Black birders, scientists, and explorers set in motion exactly what Mr. Cooper had hoped for. The group, which uses the name BlackAFinSTEM, began to organize the inaugural Black Birders Week. In a post to Twitter on May 29, zookeeper turned biologist and member of BlackAFinSTEM Corina Newsome announced the conception of the celebration. In a minute-long video filmed from her backyard, Newsome explained the motivation behind Black Birders Week: "For far too long, Black people in the United States have been shown that outdoor exploration activities are not for us. Whether it be the way the media chooses to present who is the 'outdoorsy' type, or the racism Black people experience when we do explore the outdoors, as we saw recently in Central Park. Well, we've decided to change that narrative."

Organizers soon created a Twitter account—which now has more than nineteen thousand followers—to promote the online event. A schedule for the week was quickly published to the Twitter page, outlining themes and events for each day including Sunday's theme of #BlackInNature followed by Monday's #PostABird Challenge and Tuesday's #AskABlackBirder Q&A session.

Each day encourages Black nature lovers to celebrate some of their favorite wildlife, share photos of themselves enjoying the outdoors, and to educate the broader outdoor community on some of the challenges faced by Black birders. In an interview with CNN, Alex Troutman, another BlackAFinSTEM organizer, said, "The biggest thing that we want people to see is that nature is for everyone, outdoor spaces are for everyone. Nature is for everyone."

With features in Audubon, Forbes, Paper, and a host of other publications, the movement has quickly gained traction. In the midst of protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minnenapolis police that have spread to all fifty states and around the world, Black Birders Week offers a stream of positivity and celebration of Black nature lovers, birders, and scientists. The week-long virtual event is also a reminder that the same systematic racism that killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others is excluding Black scientists, threatening Black birders, and keeping Black outdoor enthusiasts from feeling safe in the spaces they love.

If you want to join the discussion, learn more about how racism influences the experience of Black birders, and support Black naturalists, tune-in to the live stream for tomorrow's theme, #BirdingWhileBlack. The conversation will be co-moderated by Anna Gifty, founder and CEO of The Sadie Collective and Tykee James, host of the podcast On Word for Wildlife. The discussion will feature both Christopher Cooper and J. Drew Lanham.













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