Published June 4th, 2020 at 11:30 AM
Zoologist Alexander Grousis-Henderson recalled one of his earliest memories — the sound of mourning doves softly cooing in the tall pine trees that surrounded his childhood home.
Their gentle song is one of a few vivid memories that instilled in him a passion for animals — a field in which he typically doesn’t see many other people of color.
Black Birders Week was an idea borne out of an injustice and planned in under three days by Grousis-Henderson and the other members of BlackAFInSTEM, a group of Black scientists and nature enthusiasts.
Now it has made national headlines and is unifying Black birders and nature lovers, as well as furthering the national conversation about racism.
About a year ago, naturalist and activist Jason Ward assembled a group online of people who looked like him and enjoyed the outdoors as much as he did. For a while they mostly enjoyed each other’s company, slowly adding more people into the fold and providing mutual support and plenty of outdoor memes.
“It was largely a place for Black love,” Grousis-Henderson said. “We were trying to be supportive and have fun.”
Then this May when Christian Cooper had the cops called on him by a white woman while he was peacefully bird watching in Central Park, the group decided to take action and organize the inaugural Black Birders Week.
“He wasn’t a part of our group,” Grousis-Henderson said. “But when we saw that we were like: He’s us. We’re him. This isn’t really different than experiences we’ve all had.”
With its kickoff on Sunday, this week has featured different hashtags and calls to action such as Monday’s challenge to post any bird you find. Tonight there will be a livestream discussion about #BirdingWhileBlack to discuss the dangers that Black people face while trying to do something as simple as get a breath of fresh air.
“We want everyone to be involved (with the outdoors), or to at least feel like they can be involved — especially safely,” he said. “If you choose to be out there, white supremacy shouldn’t follow you.”
Despite the hazards associated with occupying public spaces while Black, plenty of the week’s posts signal the joy of Black folks in nature. Grousis-Henderson spoke to the fact that many people in BlackAFInSTEM wanted to make a career out of loving nature, but didn’t have anyone to look to as a role model. In the group they talked about how they were done trying to be “the next” anyone — they were setting out to be the firsts of their kind and have the next generation follow them.
When Grousis-Henderson was a kid with his nose to the ground of Parade Park hunting for insects or reptiles, he couldn’t be sure that there were more people out there like him. Now anyone can hop on Twitter, search #BlackBirdersWeek, and see an array of Black folks posing in lush forests and arctic tundras.
With several days still to go, Black Birders Week seeks to bolster representation, create community, and promote diversity in the STEM field.
Catherine Hoffman reports for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America.