These have been just a few of the realities that I've lived and pondered over the years--almost on a daily basis. Perhaps, as some say, it's my own paranoia. Certainly with Obama in office all of the racism and hate has disappeared. African-Americans have arrived and so certainly among the largely liberal bastions of birders progress in the area of diversity has been made. Really? Really? Guess again. I'm here to tell you that skin color still matters in 2011. Birding is among the "whitest" things a person can do. I just happen to be one of the few that adds a different hue to the mix. It's critical that along with biodiversity we think about the human component as something just as important. Linking humans of all hues to nature--through birds or otherwise, means that more will be engaged in trying to save it. Air, water, birds, trees--we all need them. That word has to get out.
|Students birding at a Summer enrichment experience-definitely not the norm!|
|Dave & fledgling birders (photo courtesy- fledgling birders.org)|
|Typical Outing--One of these things is not like the other!|
Beyond that initial meeting, the rest of the week with my fellow Sky Dawgs was spent cruising the South Texas landscape, finding Aplomado falcons and other birdy treasures. I’ve never laughed as hard as when we encountered the mother of all western diamondback rattlesnakes or thought we’d been locked behind the gates of Laguna Atascosa one evening (Stay tuned for the story!). Watching the sun set on rafts of redhead ducks was a bonding over birds I’ll never forget. I’ve also not felt as close to a group of birding friends as when we shared our hearts and minds over the serious issue of how people matter too. I must throw a huge debt of gratitude to Mary Gustafson who organizes the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and made the very courageous decision to diversify the leader group at the event last year. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is also one of the Sky Dawgs. I’ll teach her the double-secret handshake when I make my way down there in a couple of weeks. I don’t think the others will mind!
And so this past weekend, it happened. The meeting Dave Magpiong dreamed of and we all talked about in that hotel room happened. A room of folks—of all colors and persuasions-- filled a conference room at the John Heinz Refuge to capacity at the first Focus on Diversity: Changing the Face of American Birding meeting. They listened, asked questions, net-worked and shared their heads and hearts as we had in that room that November night in Texas. I felt honored to be among the number and humbled to serve on a couple of panels that spoke on the issues. Private citizens and folks from several federal agencies (USFWS, USDA Forest Service), the American Birding Association, Audubon Together Green and various other organizations showed up to support the cause. Folks as famous as Kenn Kaufman, John Robinson, Richard Crossley and Mamie Parks were there to lend their celebrity to the cause. Unfortunately, several other organizations that should have been there to support the cause weren’t. The absence of folks from such an important gathering who say they care about such things spoke volumes to perhaps a lack of true commitment to the cause and a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. We’ll all be watching to see if they join the push to make the community of birders a more inclusive neighborhood. We’ll welcome all comers to the party. It matters if we want to conserve birds, habitats and have generations of people who look like the future of America to do so. Their perceptions of nature, the issues and ultimately passion and commitment to protect birds, water, air, trees and all the natural things that matter to all regardless of color will be shaped now.
Regardless of the absence of some of the “big guns”, I think one conclusion was obvious from the gathering. Changing the homogeneous face of American birding will start with the individual. For each of us, reaching out to someone of a different hue, mode of thinking or simply different somehow than ourselves will go a long way to making birding look more like America. And that my Dear Kindred Conservationists, matters as much as the birds.
|Philly Sky Dawgs--r-l; Dave, me, Paul, Doug, Roy, Dudley|