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#BlackBirdersWeek: Black People Belong In The Great Outdoors Too

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Courtesy of Nicholas Lund
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Black scientists and outdoor enthusiasts are sharing photos of themselves in the great outdoors in honor of #BlackBirdersWeek. It’s in response to an incident in New York City’s Central Park, where a white woman walking her dog called the police on an African American bird watcher. 

Participants in the event hope to show that black people belong in outdoor spaces too.

Paradyse Blackwood is an ecology PhD student at Purdue University and enjoys birdwatching. Her research focuses on how human-caused pollution affects diseases in frogs.

She says until she got into college, she didn’t think she could be in this field because she didn’t see anyone who looked like her. Blackwood says Black Birders Week shows that there are black scientists and outdoor enthusiasts all over the country.

“Young people, especially young black people, can see that we’re represented and you can do something that you really love and it doesn’t matter what you look like,” she says.

Blackwood says she no longer likes going out in the field by herself because she’s been threatened multiple times on the job. She says the harassment of black men and women outdoors needs to be addressed.

Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman is the founder and CEO of The Sadie Collective, which addresses the barriers black women face in entering economics and related fields. She says some black men and women feel they have to wear binoculars or something to make it obvious that they’re there to enjoy the outdoors — or else they risk their safety.

“Some kind of clothing that indicates other people that they are doing that work, because if they're just walking around, it could be potentially dangerous and potentially fatal,” she says.

Opoku-Agyeman says natural science organizations need to give black employees a platform to talk about their work and the resources to help them do their work well — such as funding to send them to conferences.

She also suggests organizations set up nature clubs at predominantly African American schools to get kids interested in those fields.

Megan Gunn, a student recruiter at Purdue's Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, helps to  drum up that excitement for nature through The Familiar Faces Project. It aims to gets kids of color of all ages outside with hands-on nature activities.

"If we make that impact and that connection when kids are younger, it's more likely to stick with them as they grow older," Gunn says. "But you never know — you can go into a high school classroom with a senior who has already decided that they want to go into business management, but they do this hands-on activity and they're like, 'Well, maybe nature is for me.'"

Contact Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.