Black Birders Week is a thing, and it’s much more than a response to the lie told in Central Park
The third Black Birders Week is in full swing, presenting a slate of online activities, workshops and in-person events.
Whether flying solo or as part of a crowd, more Black birdwatchers are finding solace in nature observing sky-bound creatures they find divine.
The third annual Black Birders Week is in full swing, presenting a slate of online activities, workshops and in-person events. According to BirdNote, which was created in 2005, the week was established in response to the harassment experienced by birder Christian Cooper in Central Park two years ago. The incident went viral, highlighting racial tensions in America, but among the positive things that have resulted is a reminder that many Blacks watch birds and value nature.
Black Birders Week started in 2020 and received support via online campaigns during the coronavirus pandemic. Corina Newsome, who released a video supporting Cooper on Twitter that garnered thousands of likes and shares, was an early supporter and organizer of the first event. Co-founders of the event include Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, Sheridan Alford, Adé Ben-Salahuddin, Deja Perkins, Jason Ward, Danielle Belleny, Chelsea Connor, Joseph Saunders, Ayanna Browne, Tykee James, Dara Wilson, Nicole Jackson and Akilah Lewis.
This year, Black Birders Week, which is themed “Soaring to Greater Heights,” began Sunday, May 29, and lasts through Saturday, June 4. It also has daily themes with titles like #LearningToTakeFlight and #FlyingTheCoop, featuring an array of gatherings. Today’s virtual event, “The Mental Health Benefits of Birding,” will explore combining mindfulness and birdwatching to improve mental health, beginning at 7 p.m. EST. One of the hosts is Tenijah Hamilton of the Bring Birds Back podcast.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Cooper led a free bird walk that took place in Central Park with NYC Audubon as part of Black Birders Week. As previously reported by theGrio, Cooper recently landed a show on the National Geographic network called Extraordinary Birder that will, according to a press release, take viewers “into the wild, wonderful and unpredictable world of birds.”
While Cooper probably made a friend or two in New York, there is a chapter of Black birders in Los Angeles that, as noted by The Los Angeles Times, is celebrating this special week with events that are about more than reveling in nature but also finding real healing there.
“People don’t associate us with the outdoors. I want to break that normality and make sure every Black person can go outdoors and feel safe,” 17-year-old Jayden Samuels told The Times.
Samuels explained his birdwatching passion, describing the featured creatures as having “the coveted power of flight, the most amazing colors you could ever imagine, and they are capable of interacting with humans on a deeper level than other animals.”
“Birding makes me feel happy and almost free,” he continued, “because going into nature is already fun, but when you have a genuine purpose while out in nature, it makes it that much better.”
There are other benefits to the hobby, including the fact that it’s easily accessible and free.
“People are generally unaware because we don’t stop to look up. Going on a walk in your neighborhood can be very eye-opening — especially for new birders,” one enthusiast told The Times.
While there are many opportunities and spaces for Black birders’ enjoyment, the infamous encounter in Central Park two years ago serves as a reminder to also keep safety in mind.
“The Christian Cooper incident was a turning point for Black people in the outdoors,” says Dr. Earyn McGee, one of the original Black Birders Week organizers, who has since relocated to Los Angeles. “These are spaces where we are not expected to be. Any one of us could be a Christian Cooper.”
Editors Note: This article has been updated to include the names of additional co-founders and event organizers for Black Birders Week.
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