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Black Birders Week brings people of color outdoors

In 2020, ornithologist Christian Cooper came into the spotlight when he filmed a racist encounter with a white woman in New York’s Central Park. In solidarity, a group of black nature enthusiasts created Black Birders Week, which has now become an annual event, featuring outdoor activities across the country, including right here in Los Angeles.

The Black AF in Stem Collective organized a group nature walk this month in the Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area. For Brian Young, art and education specialist at the Nature Nexus Institute, working in nature has always been a passion, but accessibility was an issue.

“I grew up in lots of apartments, so I didn’t have a lot of my own. Going out was not the same to me as someone who owned a house. But I was lucky to live down a park…me and my siblings used to go there all the time. And then, as I got older, I wanted to learn more and more about nature. And in high school I joined our Eco Club and from Eco Club I joined the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program, which is one of the programs I help run now,” Young said.

For lovers of dark nature, spending time outdoors can be dangerous. Dr. Earyn McGee, co-founder of Black AF in STEM, spoke about the warnings she received when she told people she wanted to work with animals.

“When I went to Arizona for college, people kept saying to me, ‘Oh, you should get a gun to protect yourself.’ And not animals, not rattlesnakes, bears, but humans,” McGee explained. “If you’re black and you’re outdoors, that’s a potential threat to your life. And I think that fear is what’s stopping a lot of people from going outside and being able to create a safe space. for them. It’s priceless. Before Black Birder’s Week, most of us had never even met in person. There are so many people who have worked so hard to make this possible. And that’s why we call ourselves the Black AF in STEMx collective, because we came together to make this possible.”

Accessibility to places like Kenneth Hahn and other reservations in Los Angeles is a major issue. Until recently, there was no safe path for pedestrians in the park. Now there is also a bus that takes people to the park on weekends.

“Historically, I would say people of color just haven’t had that much access. And that’s what organizations like Outdoor Afro aim to change. We have so many people, especially here today, who were like me just curious about it and who know i want to bird watch by myself but if the opportunity and space comes up for me i would love to do that i can provide people the space and keep the space for them. They will show up and they will,” said T’Essence Minnitee, an Outdoor Afro frontman.

To learn more about the growing movement connecting black communities and outdoor activities, visit BlackAFinstem.com and OutdoorAfro.com.

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