Colors in birding likely bring to mind plumage. Color in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion lends a different lens to birding. The human world imposes dangers and obstacles to bird migration—and those who are helping to track it or enjoy birding. The many buildings and lights that humans build and use cause the deaths of millions of migrating birds each year. For Black individuals spending time in nature, the human world imposes dangers of a very different kind. Read the story of one of the very few Black people who volunteer with the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). BBS has many volunteers and staff out in nature covering the landscape to listen and look for migrating birds and track data. This frequently takes them into small towns and rural places, often where people of color are rarely seen, especially in natural spaces.
Drew Lanham, of South Carolina, is one of those volunteers. “On mornings like this, I sometimes question why I choose to do such things. Was I crazy to take this route, up here, so far away from anything? What if someone in that house is not so keen on having a Black man out here, maybe checking out things—or people—he shouldn’t be? I’ve heard that some mountain folks don’t like nosy outsiders poking around. Yet here I am, a Black man birding.”
In her article, “Birdwatching was Seen as a White Man’s Hobby: These People are Reclaiming it.” (The Lily magazine, March 26, 2021), Caroline Kitchener describes the predominance White men in birding have had for far too long, including publishing and instruction. With more people, including females and people of color, joining in this wonderful pastime, Kitchener writes: “Birdwatching, or ‘birding,’ took off as a hobby in the pandemic…Eager to bird wherever, whenever, an influx of new birders could change what it means to ‘go birding’ — and who is expected to lead the way.”
How do these stories connect to our work as place-based educators? In her article, “Increasing Equity Through Place-based Education,” Victoria Martinez writes of her own approach to teaching: “My work involves utilizing the history, culture, traditions, and environment of a place in which people reside. By acknowledging historical trauma and oppression people can then deal with it…Place-Based Learning is a practice that informs, inspires, empowers, and initiates healing. I’ve learned that the work of increasing equity starts with place and the people in that place, before it can move on to other work such as building capacity or economic development.”
We would love to hear from you as Upper Valley educators: How are you dealing with structural racism in your place-based education practice? How and what do you observe of your students’ feelings about exploring nature and their rural communities? How do you instruct and support BIPOC students’ experiences as people of color in nature and rural places? Click here to take a short survey to share your reflections and responses.