Diversifying Our World

From Oak Harbor, Kim Writes: Last Saturday Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR), and Toledo Metroparks partnered to host a conference that looked at diversity in the outdoors in a very different way. If you're a birder (and, if you're not you SHOULD be!) then you've certainly noticed that most birders tend to be somewhat similar in appearance. So, after many years of talking about this problem, we finally decided to DO something about it. That "something" became:

"Diversity in Outdoor Recreation: The Many Faces of Conservation"

a one-day conference that we hoped would help to break down the cultural barriers that prevent ethnic groups from actively participating in outdoor activities.

This conference was Kenn's idea and he spearheaded the effort as the chair of the education committe for BSBO. He put together a great committee and led the way throughout the entire process. *Thank you to the crew - Rebecca Hinkle, Laura Bonneau, Karen Mitchell, Mark Plessner, Julie Shieldcastle, Tim Bollin, and Karen Zach! Along the way, Kenn expressed a new undestanding of what it takes to pull something like this together. For someone who has given hundreds of talks/presentations, being on the "other side of the fence" was a whole new experience for Kenn. And, although he was outside his "normal" role in an event like this, he was a marvelous leader. I have always been proud to share his name, but never more than now. He truly is my conservation hero! Thank you so much, Kenn! (I'm gonna get in so much trouble for this paragraph! But hey, that's what you get when you turn your wife loose with your blog!) : )

We invited three of the country's leading authorities on the subject to give presentations. First up, John C. Robinson, author of the book, Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers. BUY THIS BOOK!! Or, buy two or three copies and donate them to your local school or public library! John's presentation was excellent. He discussed his experiences as a black birder in an almost entirely white birding community, and how this affected him and some of the people he met while out birding. He shared passages from his book, and concluded by challenging everyone in the room to help take the next steps to breaking the color barrier in the outdoors.

John C. Robinson in action!

Next up, Tamberly Conway. Tamberly is the Director of Latino Legacy: Building Place-Based Connections of Youth through Family Experiences with Forest Lands. This program is an amazing collaboration between USDA Forest Service (USFS), Texas Forest Service (TFS), US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU), Conroe Hispanic Force (CHF), Conroe Independent School District, Houston Independent School District, Texas Wildlife Association, Texas Youth Hunting Program, and the National Wild Turkey Federation. She shared the story of how she created the "Bosque Móvil" ("Forest Mobile"), a traveling information station filled with bilingual conservation and management outreach materials as well as hands-on activities and experiences designed to engage youth and their families in interactive interpretive and educational activities, exhibits and programs. Tamberly's energy and enthusiasm held everyone in the room at rapt attention.

Tamberly Conway in action!

Our final speaker of the morning was Dudley Edmondson. Dudley is a renowned nature photographer, and his dynamic presentation was punctuated with his stunning images. While birds and nature remain his primary subjects, Dudley realized a few years ago that in order to encourage more people of color to participate in outdoor activities, they needed role models. He began to turn his camera toward people, and use those images as a gateway to the outdoors. Black and Brown Faces in America's Wild Places was the result of these efforts. The book features 20 African Americans who are actively pursuing nature related careers and hobbies. As an added bonus, a 44-page booklet for youth is included.

Note the large camera in the forefront to Dudley's right. Footage from our conference will be included in a documentary about birders!

The conference was powerful stuff! While the audience was small -- it was mighty! Many state and federal agencies, as well as local organizations and NGO's were represented, including: Ohio Department of Natural Resources; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Toledo Public Schools, Woodmore Schools, Toledo and Cleveland Zoos; Black Swamp Conservancy; and Toledo Naturalists Association. The afternoon panel discussion was filled with great dialogue about the challenges we face, but, also with many useful suggestions. (More on the panel discussion in a future post!) We're planning to compile a summary of the conference and make it available as a pdf though the BSBO, ONWR, and Metropark websites. We'll keep you posted on the progress.

Wow! ---The conference was so dynamic that I almost forgot to mention that we kicked things off on Friday night with a wonderful reception at the National Center for Nature Photography, located within the Secor Metropark in Toledo. Karen Pugh and her staff at the center did a great job of coordinating the event, and arranged to have a digital exhibit of Dudley's fabulous images. It was a lovely evening, and a great way to get everyone fired up about the conference the next morning!

Dudley answers questions from an enthralled audience at the National Center for Nature Photography at Secor Metropark in Toledo.

---More on the conference, including the panel discussion, the amazing field trip experiences, and links to resources on diversity in the outdoors in a future post.


  1. Kim and Kenn,

    Thank you so much for all the hard work you put into this incredible, inspirational conference. You are awesome partners to work with and I can't wait to see and work on where we go from here after all we learned and discussed! Thanks for everything.


  2. This is really great! Good for you two to organize ground-breaking stuff like this. Let me know what I can do to help.


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