Bird watch, diversity: the Audubon group is committed to change | Voice of America
Boston-When Boston socialites Minna Hall and Harriet Hemenway tried to end the killing of birds in the name of 19th-century haute couture, they chose a logical name for it. Bitter: John James Audubon, a naturalist famous for his stunning watercolors of American birds.
125 years after the founding of the Massachusetts Audubon Bird Conservation Society, this organization and the more than 500 Audubon chapters nationwide it has inspired examine another aspect of Audubon’s life. He was a slave owner and a decisive opponent of abolition.
More than a year after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police, the Audubon branch has much more to redeem the past, including by diversifying the workforce and finding ways to accommodate more natural space for people of color. I promised to do it. This is part of a larger calculation within the larger environmental movement that has been criticized over the years for the origin of racism and the lack of diversity.
“At this point, if people aren’t part of what they’re trying to protect, that’s a problem,” said Debbie Njai, an Illinois resident who founded the outdoor group BlackPeopleWhoHike.
Last fall, Massachusetts Audubon published an essay on how the wealth of the Audubon family came from running a sugarcane plantation in the Caribbean. He also promises that people of color will make up 25% of the board and hopes to open more wildlife sanctuaries in the community of color.
The New York-based National Audubon Association, separate from Massachusetts Audubon, is also examining the legacy of the same name in a series of essays.
And in July of last year, the Sierra Club publicly apologized for the racist views of founder John Muir, who publicly called Native Americans dirty barbarians. The Auckland-based group also pledged $ 5 million to support environmental justice work and recently expressed support for black compensation.
David O’Neill, president of Massachusetts Audubon, said environmental groups understand that the future of their movement depends on changing their reputation as an elitist white.
“If we don’t rejuvenate and diversify, there will be no one to stand up for nature for us. It’s not good for everyone, ”he said during the group’s recent visit to Boston. Said. The Nature Center is an urban wildlife sanctuary in the majority of black districts that wants to be replicated in other communities of color in Massachusetts.
The green organization appears to improve staff diversity, but its leadership remains predominantly white, Green, a group in Washington, DC that publishes an annual report on diversity in the environmental sector. Andres Jimenez, responsible for 2.0, said.
In the latest Green 2.0 report, between 2017 and 2020, the largest green group in the country averaged six people of color on staff, two on senior management and one on the board. I found that I had added it.
“To accelerate and move the ball, we have to see the change from above,” Jimenez said.
Protecting birds brought the country’s latest racial assessment to the doorstep of the environmental movement. And in many ways, this is where the demand for change is greatest.
For example, there are more and more campaigns to remove the names of birds in honor of slave owners and white supremacists – names of birds.
It all started with an argument between a black birdwatcher with a dog and a white woman in Central Park, New York. ..
Birdwatching Christian Cooper, at the heart of the controversy, said organizations like Audubon need to address diversity long before the time of his virus, although some have had mixed consequences. He stressed that he was taking action.
Cooper, a board member for the New York City Audubon Association, said his branch is trying to attract a greater variety of members through modest events such as birding and hand picnics. in June.
“The best performing organizations are the ones that try new things,” Cooper said. “In fact, correcting the age-old racial prejudices that appear in the environmental movement is a difficult and unpleasant task. “
At the Audubon Association, racial calculations boil in staff anxiety.
Sparking toxic workplace complaints, an external audit in April concluded that there was a “culture of retaliation, fear and hostility against women and people of color” within the organization. Longtime CEO David Yarnold quickly resigned.
Tykey James, the organization’s government affairs officer in Washington, is one of the staff promoting the formation of unions to address diversity and other issues in the workplace. He also wants Audubon to speak louder by publicly affirming the goal of environmental justice.
“The culture we had in this organization was not for workers of color, for women or for non-binary people,” James said.
Audubon Association spokesperson Matt Smerser noted a statement from the group in May, stating that “bullying and other bad behavior” would no longer be tolerated. The organization also continues to seek a permanent CEO and promises to remain neutral in union activity, he added.
Returning to Massachusetts Audubon, O’Neill says the organization’s board has added new members, 17% of whom are of color. About 65% of staff over 950 are white.
Scott Edwards, an ornithologist at Harvard University who recently joined the group’s board of directors, said the jury was still out on whether these early Green Organization steps were enough. He said some people would need to rethink their mission and orient themselves more towards the urban population.
“Organizations need to think creatively about how to further connect the color community with nature,” said Black Edwards. “Show them what their voice is needed and wanted. Make them feel involved in the greatest protection efforts.
Mamie Parker, who worked for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for decades and was the first black regional director, advises conservation groups to approach racial equality as a nature conservation agenda.
“Whether you plant trees to restore forests or care for bald eagles to rebuild your population, these efforts will take years to bear fruit,” said a retired biologist in Dulles, Va. It is said.
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