Quakers, Birds, and Justice

Quakers Today

Apr 16 2024 • 21 mins

In this episode of Quakers Today, we ask, What does bird watching have to do with Quakers?

You will find a complete transcript of this episode at www.quakerstoday.org

Lessons from Birds about Nature, Community, and Racial Justice

Birdwatching may seem like a serene, perhaps even solitary activity, but in the latest episode of the Quakers Today Podcast, we discover it's a window into much larger conversations about community, justice, and spirituality. Rebecca Heider, a white birder from Philadelphia, shares her Quaker guide to birdwatching, revealing the profound lessons she has learned from birding. Her concept of a 'spark bird' – the one that ignites a birder's passion is a beautiful anecdote and a metaphor for those transformative moments in life that guide our paths.

Rebecca Heider discusses her article, "A Quaker Guide to Birdwatching: Eight Lessons for Friends and Seekers." This discussion also highlights the importance of respecting nature and the profound joy that can be found in everyday moments of observation. Miche McCall crafted the sound design.


Tykee James, a Black birder also originally from Philadelphia, opens up about the joys and dangers of birding while Black. In May 2020, a video from Central Park's "The Ramble" went viral, showing a white woman, Amy Cooper, calling the police on a black birdwatcher, Christian Cooper (no relation) after he asked her to leash her dog as required by park rules.

Despite his calm approach, Amy escalated the situation by threatening to report an African American man was threatening her life. The incident, captured on video and viewed over 40 million times, sparked widespread discussions about racial bias and the history of false accusations against black individuals.

This incident led Tykee and other Black birdwatchers to create Black Birders Week, an event that celebrates diversity in birdwatching and challenges the stereotypes and racial injustices that still exist in outdoor activities. Tykee views the week as a celebration of joy, resilience, and diverse experiences within the Black community.

Tykee shares how his experiences with urban birding as a teen exposed him to community connections and the stark realities of racial and environmental injustices. These observations led him to co-found Amplify for the Future and become the president of the DC chapter of the Audubon Society. Tykee is currently part of a campaign to rename the Audubon Society to better reflect its values, acknowledging its historical context. The theme for the 2024 Black Birders Week is "Wings of Justice: Soaring for Change," and it is hosted by Black AF in Stem.

You can hear a longer version of Tykee’s interview on Episode 59 of Citizens Climate Radio.

Reviews and Recommendations

In this segment of the Quakers Today podcast, Miche McCall and Peterson Toscano delve into recent book reviews from Friends Journal. Peterson shares his enthusiasm for Ruth Todd’s new book Exploring Isaac Penington: Seventeenth-Century Quaker Mystic, Teacher and Activist. He highlights Penington's influential role in early Quakerism and his spiritually led writings, noting Todd's unique approach, including metaphors from nature and experiential exercises for readers.

Miche shares their intrigue with Altar to an Erupting Son by Chuck Collins, a novel that challenges notions of pacifism through its provocative opening scene and subsequent exploration of the impact of violence. This leads to a broader discussion on pacifism and activism within the context of creating a better world.

Additionally, Peterson is curious about Daybreak, a cooperative board game focused on climate change solutions, emphasizing the game's community-building aspect and eco-friendly design. Miche shares their recommendation of the Headspace app's Sleepcasts, particularly those with a Star Wars theme, highlighting their effectiveness in aiding relaxation and sleep.

Find more reviews at Friends Journal online.

Question for next month

When you walk into a new space, what do you see, hear, or experience that makes you feel welcome? What might be present that leads you to conclude you may not be welcome? The space may be a library, a place of worship, or someone’s home. It might be a town, a business, or a school.

Leave a voice memo with your name and the town where you live. The number to call is 317-QUAKERS, that's 317-782-5377. +1 if calling from outside the U.S. You can also send an email: podcast @ friendsjournal.org

Quakers Today is the companion podcast to Friends Journal and other Friends Publishing Corporation (FPC) content online. It is written, hosted, and produced by Peterson Toscano and Miche McCall.

Season Three of Quakers Today is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee.

Do you want to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace? The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC, works with communities worldwide to drive social change. Their website features meaningful steps you can take to make a difference. Through their Friends Liaison Program, you can connect your meeting or church with AFSC and their justice campaigns. Find out how you can become part of AFSC’s global community of changemakers.

Feel free to send comments, questions, and requests for our new show. Email us at podcast@friendsjournal.org. Call our listener voicemail line: 317-QUAKERS.

Music from this episode comes from Epidemic Sound.