In Concord, across country birders with diverse backgrounds come together for love of nature

By JACQUELINE COLE

Monitor staff

Published: 06-06-2023 11:48 AM

A cluster of around 20 people stood silently in Keach Park on Saturday morning for a “listening moment.” They dropped their binoculars and attempted to focus on the tweeting sounds that came from above them.

“The diversity of wildlife in this park is very much reflective of the diversity in this area,” said Doug Bechtel, president of New Hampshire Audubon.

This event was organized in collaboration between New Hampshire Audubon and the Friends Program, a non-profit organization serving the New Hampshire community through youth mentorship, emergency housing and more. It was held on June 3, the last day of Black Birders week, in honor of this annual celebration.

The walk was held in Keach Park because, according to Laura Miller of the Friends Program, it is accessible to people without transportation. It was advertised as a way to “celebrate and support Black appreciation of, and connection with, nature” in New Hampshire. 

Black Birders Week started in 2020 in response to a number of highly publicized encounters that Black people had while outdoors, including the incident between Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper in New York City. 

One morning in Central Park, Christian was bird-watching while Amy, unrelated to Christian, was walking her dog, Henry. Christian requested that Amy, who was shouting after her dog, put Henry back on a leash as the park’s rules required. Instantly, this encounter became ridden with false accusations and a call to the police in which Amy reported, “an African-American man is threatening my life.”

Later that day, May 5 2020, George Floyd was murdered by the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

“Initially [Black Birders Week] was more of a reactionary thing in response to all of these terrible events, and now it’s more of an active celebration,” said Ade Ben-Salahuddin, a member of the planning team for Black Birders Week and a birder himself. 

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The team is comprised of members of Black AF in STEM, a collective that seeks to support, uplift, and amplify Black STEM professionals. They have collaborated each year since 2020 to create a theme and a collection of events. This year, the theme was “Flying Full Circle.”

At first, attractions were entirely online, including Instagram live streams and broadcasted conversations between Black AF in STEM and community partners such as Audubon. Now the events are largely in-person, most of which are nature walks like the one held in Concord on Saturday.

“The natural sciences are not seen as a thing Black people do professionally or even for leisure, even though that's very much not true,” said Ben-Salahuddin, who is studying biology education at Southern Connecticut State University.

The goal of Black Birders Week is to highlight Black people who are already in these fields and inspire others through representation. They aim toward, “removing that sort of isolation that comes with being a Black person interested in the natural sciences,” a welcoming feeling that brought Ben-Salahuddin into birding in the first place. 

He was always interested in nature, but it wasn’t until he saw a community of Black people enjoying it together that he started birding. 

Across the country, local community members show up to events in honor of Black Birders Week, which ran from May 28 to June 3 this year. According to Ben-Salahuddin, the racial makeup of participants varies, but few groups have been majority white. 

Black Birders Week is not just celebrated in cities around the U.S., including D.C., Chicago and New York, but also globally. The collective has had guest speakers from the Caribbean and various parts of Africa, according to Ben-Salahuddin.

In Concord, birders of all ages spouted knowledge of tree bark and raven nests. Participants were mostly white, but community leaders made sure to emphasize the objective of this nature walk, highlighting Christian Cooper and Floyd at the beginning and end.

“I think we should do this every year from now on,” Bechtel said to the group.

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