What can concerned athletes, scientists, artists, or creatives do in the face of global challenges?
We all have a voice, and some of us have platforms to amplify those voices to a broader audience on our blogs and
social media channels. The more we can invest our human capital into the many challenges we face collectively around
the globe, we can start to make some real change.
Still, it begins with us all as individuals. We have to find ways to get involved with those causes at the local and national levels. The local efforts help you see the immediate impact you can make in your own community. The global efforts help to remind you that we’re all in this thing together.
Can you tell us a bit about your passions beyond “work”?
I’ve always been a creative type, so I’m always trying to create. Ideally, I’m on a hike in the woods, hanging with
the birds. However, birding is my happy place, so I do my best to get out as much as I can. Luckily, my kids like to
go birding with me too, so it’s something I can share with my family. If we’re not birding, they love fishing,
swimming, or taking our goldendoodle Teddy P. to the dog park.
Anyone that follows the @Wiscobirder on Instagram knows that I love music, and music is a big part of my life when I’m not in the office. I own a recording studio (Warm Glow Studios) in my hometown, where we help musicians create industry-quality works of art. Lately, I’ve been working on a new project of my own, so I’m excited about that as well.
One of my favorite music memories was using hip-hop music to help teach science to middle school kids. We broke the kids up into groups, and local artists, including myself, helped them create songs they performed in front of the entire school with their friends and loved ones in the stands.
How do you give back to your community or to the underserved?
I sit on the board of a local non-profit called Rubin for Kids. Our mission is to serve underrepresented scholars at
every level of their learning, meeting some of their most basic needs through small achievement awards and
scholarships. For example, some kids may need a pair of shoes to start the new school year or help covering their
athletic fees so they can play a sport they love.
Since March, most nominations are for basic necessities such as school supplies, internet bills, eviction prevention, desks, laptops, food, personal hygiene, and clothing. We awarded 362 awards for a total of $47,727, with 162 of those awards ($18,466) being COVID-19 related. We also awarded 62 scholarships, the most for the organization to date to first-generation high school seniors to help cover their tuition costs at the local community college.
I also recently started the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin with my friend and mentor, Jeff Galligan, a fellow Black Birder, with the hopes of getting more of our BIPOC brothers and sisters outside by exploring natural Wisconsin through our shared passion for birds. The BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin will host its first birding tour on July 24th at Nine Springs E-way in Madison,WI. We will be hosting monthly birding tours for our friends and allies moving forward and helping the local Audubon society plan its first observance of Black Birder’s Week in 2021.
It’s small steps, but we are excited to do our part in making the outdoors a more inclusive and welcoming experience for the BIPOC population in the state.
Is there a specific moment in life or a series of events that instilled in you a passion for your craft or passions?
Oddly enough, the one thing I tell everyone I will thank the pandemic for is motivating me to get outside and explore all the beauty that surrounds me daily. I was also in desperate need of something positive, and the healing powers of Mother Nature through the beauty and diversity of birds is exactly what I needed. Getting outside and giving my passion for birds the attention it needs really helped me take my birding photography to the next level.
At the end of the day, why do you do your craft? Are there goals ahead, constant love for the process, or a yearning to learn more?
I really want to show the world that birding is for everyone! I use my social media to show people all over the globe
that birding is fun and birding is cool. Being a Black Birder that many consider young (although my kids would
disagree), I’m constantly dispelling myths of what the birder is or should be every time I go out.
Whether it’s how I incorporate hip-hop and soul music into my videos or how, as I say, “bird drip,” I am changing what it means to be a birder in 2021 and beyond. I love teaching new birders how to have success in my videos. Still, I also love teaching everyone how to have fun and to appreciate the time you get outdoors. It’s definitely worth a celebration, and that’s what birding is for me. A celebration. With a dope DJ, of course.
Do you have any “heroes’’ to speak of? How are you inspired?
My Grandfather was a farmer and loved to go birding. He is definitely my first hero when I think about the outdoors.
I still remember him teaching me that the corn had to be “Knee-high by the 4th of July” or it would be a bad harvest.
When he passed away, my Mom made sure I got my grandpa’s binoculars which I proudly used when I first started birding with just his binoculars and an iPhone 7. Those were some of my favorite memories as a birder. Everything was new to me, and with every new bird encounter brought immense joy, I still try to channel that energy every time I go out.
A book that shaped your life?
Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom is the longest book I’ve ever read, but it’s also the best! This
man spent decade after decade in prison fighting against the system of racial oppression that took away everything he
loved. Separated from his family and the people he most wanted to help, he never gave up on his dream to make the
world a better place, starting with his own people in South Africa.
Similar to what I said above. He started getting involved on the local level. Eventually, he started branching out and collaborating with other people and organizations on a national level that shared his values.
“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones”-Nelson Mandela.
Any big moments of Zen in the outdoors?
As a creative, I think I get some of my best ideas outdoors. I’ve also had some of the most candid conversations with myself, alone in my own thoughts in the woods. I can spend hours being serenaded by the birds and sounds of nature and leave fully recharged and ready to tackle what the world had for me that day. That wasn’t always the case but getting outside helped me realize that all storms must and will pass.
What have been your biggest challenges?
I think early on, I worried what people would think of me being a nontraditional birder. He’s this black man dancing,
laughing, rapping, and taking pictures of birds in the woods. What in the heck is going on here?
But, once I got past those initial fears of what people would think, I had to examine the reality of my situation as a Black Birder in Wisconsin. Rural parts of the state haven’t always been the most welcoming, and I don’t always feel safe everywhere I go birding. But having a platform and a voice, that is something I hope to change in my beautiful state.
Birding photography can also be costly when you want to take your craft to the next level. That has definitely been a barrier and one I’m looking to combat, and collaborations and support from brands that support the cause and like what I’m doing in the birding community.
How can the outdoor industry affect change concerning outdoor recreation and public lands?
I think it can start with the little things. Using diverse models in their marketing can help bring more eyeballs to your brand. Support small organizations looking to make an impact by making the outdoors more inclusive and welcoming for all. Once we can come together as people, we can join forces to combat the real global challenges we face together as humans worldwide.
What keeps you going?
Always on the hunt to learn more about birds and capture my next lifer.
A personal style?
I’m the flyest birder in the woods. All facts. No Cap. #Wiscobirder LOL.