These Black nature lovers are busting stereotypes, one cool bird at a time

Updated 8:58 AM ET, Wed June 3, 2020

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(CNN)Everyone has the bird.

Corina Newsome calls it a gateway bird, the one special species that sets an avian enthusiast on a lifetime course of discovery and environmental passion. Hers was the blue jay.
For Tykee James, it was the belted kingfisher.
When asked what his favorite bird is, Alex Troutman paused. "Can I give you a top three?" The northern crested caracara. The white ibis. And, of course, the penguin.
These young Black naturalists -- and the birds they love -- are some of the stars of Black Birders Week, a series of events and activities designed to highlight Black scientists, scholars and everyday nature lovers. While spreading their joy and knowledge, the countless people involved in the movement are also raising visibility of Black achievement at a painfully critical time.

A painful event is turned into potential

The event was conceived by a group of Black STEM professionals and students who share an online space they call #BlackAFinSTEM.
    STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the dozens of people in the group hail from all different kinds of disciplines within that sphere.
    But when Christian Cooper, a Black birder in New York City, was threatened by a white woman in Central Park, their focus turned to the avian-minded among them.
    Within days, a group of #BlackAFinSTEM organizers had come up with a whole week's worth of ways to support and encourage the Black birding community.
    The Audubon Society, the National Park Service and countless other organizations have boosted their work, introducing social media to a whole realm of cool birds and new discoveries -- and new faces that challenge and change science stereotypes.
    "The importance is normalizing the fact that Black people exist in the birding and natural sciences community," says Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, one of the organizers of the event. "People don't understand that Black people exist in other contexts other than the ones they're exposed to. It's to ensure other people see the impact of Black birders and naturalists, and gives them a chance to be seen."
    This visibility is a master key that can open all kinds of doors for Black scientists to succeed, and for the world to benefit from their success.

    Scientists confront the double-edged sword of stereotypes