You may have seen the video by now: a confrontation in Central Park involving a birdwatcher who asked a woman to leash her dog only to have her call the police claiming that ‘an African American man’ was threatening her. The man was Christian Cooper, and the encounter shone a spotlight on what many already know: it can be dangerous for Black people to explore public outdoor spaces. "This is a story beyond one person, a story beyond that park. It is a story writ large of who owns spaces, who has privileges to those spaces," author and Black birder Drew Lanham told The Guardian.

The hope is that one day Black communities can enjoy natural areas as safe, inclusive, and welcoming places – a world where the outdoors provides a platform for everyone to share and celebrate their knowledge and hobbies, like birding. That is why a large group of Black scientists, birders, and outdoor enthusiasts created a new awareness campaign to normalise being #BlackInNature. It’s called #BlackBirdersWeek and the idea came from a conversation the organisers had regarding the Cooper incident. Inspired by other acts of advocacy – like the virtual run to honour Georgia resident Ahmaud Arbery who was shot and killed while jogging – the organisers brainstormed how birders could launch a similar initiative, explained co-organiser Chelsea Connor. (A full list of organisers can be found here.)

"#BlackBirdersWeek [is] a great chance to showcase Black birders and nature enthusiasts and start a discussion about the struggles Black people face in the outdoors," said Kassandra Ford, a PhD Candidate at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “For me, personally, it is a great opportunity to show that Black people have as much of a right to experience and enjoy nature as everyone else. A major part of going outdoors while Black, however, is unseen and unknown by a lot of non-Black folks. […] It is meant to showcase the highs and lows of our experiences being outdoors while Black. We love to explore just as much as the next person but doing so isn't always simple. We hope to engage the public with stories and pictures, discuss ways being outdoors has been a struggle for us in the past, but also inspire conversations about how things can be improved for the future.”

Many others agreed with that sentiment. Participant Alexus Roberts explained that it is, "a way to vocalise [our] experiences and reduce the chance that we are the next person to be seen as threatening or out of place when we are out in the field."

The campaign runs from Sunday, May 31 through to Friday, June 5 on various social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Black Birders Week has three primary goals, explains co-organiser and CEO of The Sadie Collective Anna Opoku-Agyeman. Firstly, the campaign was created to increase "visibility and representation of Black birders, naturalists, and explorers." Secondly, the organisers hope that it will aid in "sparking a necessary dialogue to discuss the very real threats and racism experienced by Black birders". And finally, the initiative will push "institutions to go beyond just diversity and to take on inclusion efforts that give Black birders a space to be seen and heard."

"The purpose of this week is to show young Black people that they can do whatever they put their minds to especially in the natural world … that they can be explorers who embrace all that the world has to offer,” adds Opoku-Agyeman.

But the week has taken on even more meaning as protests have broken out across multiple cities in the USA (and globally) in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. “We organised this week of events as a form of protest for one incident and, in the midst of that, other incidents have already taken place. We definitely stand with our brothers and sisters who are out protesting,” said Connor. In fact, some participants believe this week to be a form of protest.

"Many of the organisers of #BlackBirdersWeek work and spend time in the outdoors, and therefore any of these horrific incidents could have happened to us,” agreed Ford. "There is a long history of civil unrest and the right to protest in our country. We believe we are using a virtual platform to demonstrate our right to live and enjoy the outdoors … without feeling unsafe or threatened." Many have been blown away by the outpouring of support and participation thus far.

Those involved with the campaign want to encourage young Black kids to enjoy nature and hope the large media attention this event is garnering allows them to see themselves in a line-up of scientists, enthusiasts, and explorers. They also hope Black Birders Week can become an annual event and, in future, be carried out in person. "I didn't have Black naturalists and scientists to look up to as a kid ... I thought those jobs/activities/hobbies weren't really for [Black] people like me. This event is showing kids everywhere that that is not the case; we are showing them that nature and science is for everyone! It would be incredible to continue spreading this message by having events like this in the years to come," said Roberts.

For now, make sure to follow the campaign via social media!