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Audubon, AOS leaders speak out against racism, discrimination

Protesters near the White House on May 30. Photo by bgrocker/Shutterstock

The leaders of America’s largest bird conservation group and its largest organization for bird scientists issued statements on Tuesday denouncing the deaths of George Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police. They also called for more inclusion and awareness and opportunities for people of color in their organizations.

David Yarnold, the CEO of the National Audubon Society, sent a message to Audubon staff, which was also posted on Audubon’s website, in which he wrote:

“To my colleagues who are Black and brown: Your lives and careers matter profoundly to me and to Audubon’s leadership. We’ll be releasing a plan by June 15 to get us collectively to a place where you are safer, more seen, and respected in your jobs every day.

“To my Audubon colleagues who are white: Racism is something created and sustained by white people to give ourselves an advantage over others. It’s our responsibility to understand and interrupt all the ways—large and small—that happens.”

 Recalling a sign he saw recently that read “Silence is violence,” Yarnold asked white colleagues to talk about racism “with other white people in your life this week.” He also suggested they read or listen to the book How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. And he said they should listen to ornithologist Drew Lanham’s keynote speech at the 2017 Audubon Convention.

‘We stand, peacefully, with the protesters’

Kathy Martin, the president of the American Ornithological Society, said the society “strongly condemns these recent racist acts and all acts of individual and institutional racism, harassment, and discrimination. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families directly affected by these horrible acts of violence. We stand, peacefully, with the protesters around the country who bring much needed and renewed attention to the ongoing problems of unbridled police violence towards Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color and to the deficiencies in our leadership and law enforcement system that allow such acts to continue.

“As a professional Society, we must embrace the path forward: through self-education about implicit bias; by adhering proactively to our policies on diversity and inclusion; by continually enforcing a culture of inclusion and awareness; and by being vigilant within and beyond our Society for acts of discrimination, bias, and aggression. As individuals and as a Society, we need to reflect on how easily our individual actions, perceptions, and words can damage the fragile balance that diversity and inclusion requires. We can meet this critical challenge that exists in all components of our Society. AOS wants to provide the resources and services that can help support our community: to members who have encountered systemic racism within and outside of their professional workplace; to members who want to be effective allies to their colleagues, and to members who want to understand how deep structural inequities pervade their lives.

“We can take some small solace in recognizing that birds provide a powerful force for community, understanding, and diversity. The AOS strongly endorses the community-building activities ongoing this week on Twitter, such as #BlackBirdersWeek and #BlackAFinStem, and #BlackInNature, all of which celebrate the contributions of Black North Americans and people of color to the study of birds. These statements of solidarity and inclusion showcase the growing diversity in ornithology as a field. Much, much more work needs to be done, but such expressions of community should be celebrated and amplified by AOS members.”

The message, which was also signed by Sharon Gill and Viviana Ruiz Gutierrez, co-chairs of the AOS Diversity & Inclusion Committee, includes a list of “resources that can provide a sense of unity, clarity, and paths forward for all members of our AOS community.”

You can find the list, which also includes Kendi’s book How To Be an Antiracist, on the AOS blog.

Other organizations in the birding community have posted statements on social media, including American Bird Conservancy

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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