Birder's Guide

MAY 2015

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 32 of 35

31 May 2015 | Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community narrative but do not always tell the truth. Fortifed by a background of Art History, I knew that the photos of African-Ameri- cans in the outdoors had the potential to be further-reaching than my written words, especially in the context of the shortened attention span ushered in by social media. So I discovered a chance to shift the visual representation and help guide a new nar- rative of who belongs in the outdoors that embeds an invitation that had not been seen consistently under a mainstream gaze. As the work of Outdoor Afro has evolved, so too have my experiences working with a variety of outdoor leaders, experts, and the organizations that claim them. In ad- dition to building Outdoor Afro's national leadership team, I was asked to help sev- eral organizations with the topic of diver- sity, sometimes as a panelist at a conference, other times retained as an advisor or brand spokesperson. These varied experiences in- formed an appreciation that diversity and inclusion are more than fags to wave, con- sultants to hire, or, in some cases, weapons to draw. I've learned that relevance and in- clusion can and should fow in many direc- tions often not in public view. Back when I started my professional journey in this feld, discussions about di- versity in the outdoors began with a plain- tive "Why?" Why don't black people have a relation- ship with nature? Why don't I ever see any black birders? Why can't people just go outside? These are questions that leave the an- swerer feeling backed into a corner, as I often did, with a need to explain or defend something with too many layers of unclear historical nuance and regional specifcity to be reduced to a pat answer—answers that leave less room for creativity and more for blame. I have often challenged these ques- tions, and I'm glad that in recent times more people are beginning their inquiry with "How?" How are people already getting outdoors? How can we raise awareness about com- munity needs in the framework of conser- vation? How can I be a better partner? These generative questions help move the needle from accusation to action—from speculation to forming real relationships and genuine understanding. Chances are, readers of this article are likely believers in the power of birds and diverse nature all around to help us under- stand our place on the planet a little bet- ter, and in the joy those connections bring to our lives. And certainly it is natural and generous to want to share these experienc- es with others But we know that not everyone is par- ticipating in birding. In the case of African- Americans, according to a National Sur- vey on Recreation and the Environment and with U.S. Census Bureau population growth projections, the current proportion of African-Americans who participate in bird watching is signifcantly smaller than the proportion of African-Americans in the U.S. population. Combine this with rural locations with already diminished black populations, often near remote public lands, it is no surprise to fnd little variation among birding participants. Fortunately, Outdoor Afro, and many organizations like it, has seized the opportunity to do some- thing to increase awareness about birds and other wildlife among people everywhere. With an increased knowledge of birds and awareness of contemporary environ- mental issues, I am proud to weave in con- servation ethic, along with our family sto- ries, into every kind of event Outdoor Afro does. Beyond theory, we get to see frsthand how these experiences translate for thou- sands of everyday lives. I have learned that people come to the outdoors with the asset of their own moti- vation, knowledge, and experience. Some- times people are drawn to nature-based activities because they might be new in town, invited by a trusted friend, or desire to bond as a family over a new activity. In these nature events, people often share their wonder through personal stories about wild things that have deep cultural or regional signifcance. With more than a healthy dash of humility in these instances, I often end up learning far more than I am able to share. For me, and the Outdoor Afro leaders around the country, inclusion and diversity is more than skin-deep. Lowering barri- ers to access and displacing fears are often necessary as well. For those who want to do something, it no longer seems suffcient to sit on panels and talk about what needs to be done or how things appear. Perhaps we can take action in the spirit of how that compels us to move beyond mere optics to instead fx our individual and organiza- tional plumbing. Recently, I was a part of a conversation that ignited over the critique of a photo that showed a lack of racial diversity among the attendees at a recent birding conference. I understood where the initial remark was coming from, but, based on all I've learned these past few years, I could not blindly Oakland, California Rue Mapp Planting seedlings in Oakland during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service partnership with Golden Gate Audubon Society. Photo © Rue Mapp

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