MSU Texas student achieves national attention with #BlackBirdersWeek campaign

Senior biology major Chelsea Connor steps up to support Black people in nature

MSU Texas student achieves national attention with #BlackBirdersWeek campaign

Chelsea Connor of Midwestern State University received national attention recently with a campaign to increase the visibility of Black people who are birders and the challenges faced by Black people engaging in outdoor activities.

As a co-founder of the hashtag #BlackBirdersWeek announced on Twitter on May 29 and the creation of #BlackInNature, the senior biology major with an art minor made a guest appearance on the National Public Radio podcast Shortwave. It was something she’d never imagined.

“It’s been surreal,” Connor said. “I’ve listened to NPR before and had never thought I’d be on there. It was a chill conversation. I look at my Twitter accounts, and I have National Wildlife following me and other accounts.”

But fame was not her goal. “The main point is people are listening to our movement. The protests going on, which are necessary, and now more than ever, the conversations,” she said.

The #BlackBirdersWeek initiative was prompted by the birdwatching incident in Central Park in New York in May. In addition to the social impact, many took notice of the beautiful bird pictures shared all week by Black people in the field.

Chelsea Connor activist birder

“It started with #BlackInNature, where we wanted to see black people outdoors in the STEM field,” Connor said. “We wanted students and professionals in the STEM field to celebrate and enjoying working outside.”

The co-founders included Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, Sheridan Alford, Danielle Belleny, Joseph Saunders, Tykee James and Connor, and the group has a Black Birders Week listing on Wikipedia

“It achieved what we thought it would and then some,” Connor said. “I wanted Black people to not feel alone, to experience the outdoors, and to not be wary when outside. Black people are afraid of getting killed outdoors when we do things.”

Her hope is that the initiative will an impact so that more Black people will see the benefits of working in STEM fields or being #BlackInNature.

 “I find it very impressive wheChelsea Connorn students step out of their comfort zones to confront issues that have bearing on the world and society beyond Wichita Falls,” said Dr. Charles Watson, Associate Professor of biology at MSU Texas. “The best way I have found to mentor exceptional and driven people like Chelsea is just to reassure her that I am behind her, help her with resources, and promote her work. I am lucky to have students like her in my lab; their success is our success.”

Connor is from Dominica and enjoys birding in Texas, too. She also has visited the University’s Dalquest Desert Research Station in far West Texas. “I’m still learning the North American bird; I enjoy the color range and identifying the birds,” she said.

She enjoys the woodpeckers found in North Texas, including the Downy Woodpecker and the Hairy Woodpecker.

Connor was also featured on Smithsonian Magazine’s Conservation Commons blog, the BBC’s Discover Wildlife, livestreams with Monterey Bay Aquarium and the National Aquarium, as well as other online stories or question/answer sessions.

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Disclaimer: This article has been edited from its original format to reflect inclusive language.