One of the best things I did when I was working for the Travis Audubon Society in Austin was help with a birding class that took two dozen mostly Hispanic and Black at-risk 6th graders, gave them binoculars, field guides, and notebooks, and taught them how to identify and enjoy birds. Half the kids were from the talented and gifted program, and the other half were "resource" kids that needed academic help.
After the first session, it was clear that some of the dyslexic and other "resource" kids were much better at finding and identifying birds using the Ken Kaufmann's field guide. One kid named George clearly excelled at this--perhaps the first academic activity he had ever been good at. It was great to see him light up. At one point he boasted that if he could do this, he could do anything--he could even be president of the United States someday!
We took these kids birding once each month during the school year, and had a great time. During the second session, I saw that one of the kids had drawn a bunch of Mexican birds in his notebook. I asked him if he had been just copying birds out of the book. He said no, he had taken his book on a visit to his Grandparent's house back in Mexico and had drawn the Green Jays and other birds he saw there. Pretty cool, huh?
These kids had a great time while the class lasted, and sometimes I wonder what happened to them afterwards. Without a community of friends and family to support their interest, did it just eventually die?
In a brand new book, Birding for Everyone, John C. Robinson--an African-American and birder for nearly 30 years--discusses the challenges of engaging minority audiences in birding. The biggest problem seems to be, like we found in Austin, that there isn't a lot of support for birding in these communities. They aren't anti-birding--the kids we took out loved it--but there just isn't a tradition of birding and birders in place in those communities to foster and support birding activities.
So how do we share the joy of birding with more of our neighbors? Robinson offers a number of suggestions--most of which will involve birders taking a greater role in actively encouraging our minority friends to take up birding, and working through the schools and other institutions in minority communities to create a network that can support those kids and others who might enjoy birding, but who don't do it because they don't see it happening around them and don't have anyone to go birding with.
Robinson has a lot of good ideas about this, so take a look at Birding for Everyone and think about how you can be a better ambassador for birding in the communities around you. While it may seem like a lot of work--sharing birds with others is always a joy, and unless we want these minority communities--who are soon to outnumber the rest of us--to not care about birds and the environment, the future of birds and birding may depend on it!
(See a more detailed review of this book at Audubon Birdscapes)