Last week, Christian Cooper was birdwatching in Central Park. Upon rightfully asking a woman to leash her dog in a protected area, a verbal altercation ensued and the woman called the police on Cooper, highlighting how dangerous the outdoors can be for Black birdwatchers.
Sadly, Christian Cooper’s experience is not an uncommon one. This tale resonated deeply with Black birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, prompting the BlackAFInSTEM group (founded by Jason Ward) to launch #BlackBirdersWeek.
Starting from May 31, the #BlackBirdersWeek aims to celebrate Black nature enthusiasts and amplify their voices through various photo challenges (#PostABird, #BlackWomenWhoBird) and livestream chats. The co-founders of this week-long initiative include Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, Danielle Belleny, Sheridan Alford, Tykee James, Joseph Saunders and Chelsea Connor.
“It is upsetting to see that it is still so unsafe for a lot of Black people to go outside, and to do what they love doing outside,” says Connor, who is a herpetologist, artist and science communicator. “A lot of us in the [BlackAFInSTEM] group are nature biologists. We have to go outside for work – to do fieldwork, collect our data and look at the animals we study out there.”
Connor’s research focuses on the differences in diet between native and invasive anole species found in Dominica. Anoles are a family of small to large lizards, where males often have a dewlap (a brightly colored flap of skin that extends from their throat).
“We wanted to highlight Black birders, amplify their voices, and make sure that people can see us. We want Black birders to be visible. We want people to know we’re out here. We bird as well. It’s not just for one race. It is important that we feel safe in the environment that we work in,” says Connor.
The BlackAFInSTEM group joined Twitter this past weekend, and has already amassed over 5,000 followers. At the time of writing this, #BlackBirdersWeek has kicked off with their first photo challenge: asking individuals to share their photos out in nature using #BlackInNature.
“The response has been amazing – I don’t even know how to describe it […] It’s just amazing to see the support we’re getting, and how our colleagues are amplifying our voices,” says Connor. “It is so vital that people hear our side of the story – that people hear what it is like just being Black, existing and doing some of the things that we love.”