How a Racially Charged Incident Led to a Digital Event for Black Birders

Author: Michelle Russell       

University of Georgia graduate student Sheridan Alford co-founded a weeklong digital event to encourage more Black people to get involved in birdwatching after seeing a racist incident involving a Black birder in a video. (Courtesy of Sheridan Alford and Biodiversity Heritage Library)

How can events — in-person and digital — be agents of social transformation?

Here’s one example. University of Georgia graduate student Sheridan Alford co-founded a weeklong event, which launched on May 31, to encourage more Black people to get involved in birdwatching, after a video showing a white woman calling the police on a Black birder, Christian Cooper, in New York City’s Central Park — announcing that she was going to tell them “there’s an African American man threatening my life” — went viral.

“I think a lot of us identified with that scenario,” said Alford, who studies natural resources and is an avid birdwatcher, in a recent HighCountryNews article. In response, she and other members of a grassroots group, @BlackAFinSTEM, who work in science or related fields, began work on organizing #BlackBirdersWeek, a week of social-media prompts, that runs through June 5. On June 2, participants could engage in a two-hour Q&A with Black Birders on Twitter; on June 4, the group has planned a #BirdingWhileBlack livestream discussion from 7-8:30 p.m. EST.

The goal is to boost visibility of Black nature enthusiasts, shine a light on the value of racial diversity, and to promote dialog within the larger and mostly white birding community, Alford said.

“We think that it’s very important to highlight the work that people are actually doing and kind of drive that conversation to, yes, look at us, and please acknowledge the hardship we go through,” Alford told HighCountryNews. “But as you acknowledge those hardships, also look at what we’ve been doing in our research, or what we’ve been doing in our communities to better the climate as a whole.”

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.