Nature instructor holding bird to show students

Celebrating Diverse Leaders in the Outdoors

Raleigh Parks

Raleigh Parks supports diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors. Through our nature programs and more, we strive to make the outdoors accessible to all. 

Check out our interviews with local Black outdoor leaders, Lauren Pharr, Deja Perkins, and Murry Burgess, to learn about the important work they are doing for wildlife conservation.

Burgess, Pharr, and Perkins are graduate students at North Carolina State University pursuing degrees in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conversation Biology.

Why did you choose wildlife conservation as your career path? 

Burgess: I felt that it was the best way for me to make a difference in the world. Plus, I’ve always loved wild animals!

Pharr: I have always wanted to work with animals. My initial goal was to become a veterinarian, but then I started working with birds and my whole career path changed. I began taking courses in Wildlife Management and Animal Ecology in Undergrad while also conducting research studying Avain Harmonics. From then on, I knew I wanted to seek out a career path continuing to research and study birds.

Perkins: I've always loved animals, and after completing my first internship I realized that I could study birds, the habitats they live in, and how people impact the environment. It was even better when I realized I could focus on studying this in cities, which is extremely important to me since I grew up in the large city of Chicago. I want people to know that they don't have to go to some far away place to experience nature. There is beauty and wild things that essentially live in our backyards. I love being able to help people appreciate wildlife and natural spaces, but also help to manage wildlife and the places they live in cities.

Deja Perkins, Lauren Pharr, and Murry Burgess lead a birding day with the City of Raleigh's Youth Conservation Corp Team.

Deja Perkins, Lauren Pharr, and Murry Burgess lead a birding day with the City of Raleigh's Youth Conservation Corp Team.

Deja Perkins, Lauren Pharr, and Murry Burgess lead a birding day with the City of Raleigh's Youth Conservation Corp Team.

What one piece of advice do you have for BIPOC who are interested in nature, but maybe hesitant or discouraged to get involved? 

Burgess: Do it! No matter what you decide to do, there will always be obstacles to overcome. Never let anyone or anything stop you from following your dreams.

Pharr: Look around you and be aware of all the other people who look just like you and are doing what you aspire to do. You see me here now, and that means it is possible. Do not be afraid to take that step. Listen to yourself and literally follow your passion. Generations to come will be role models for future generations, so someone has to be the initiator. Let that be you. 

Perkins: Find outdoor activity organizations on Instagram or Twitter and meet up/participate in their activities. Join outdoor organizations like Outdoor Afro where you will be able to experience an activity with other people like you. If there is a career, job, or activity you have seen on tv that looks interesting, see if there are any paid internships that can give you a taste of what it is like to do that job full time.

Woman looking through a bird spotting scope.

Deja Perkins, pictured, looks through a spotting scope. Perkins, along with other Black birders (Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, Danielle Belleny, Sheridan Alford, Chelsea Connor, Rhiannon Kirton, and Jason Ward) in the Southeastern US co-founded Black Birders week.

What are your future career plans? 

Burgess: Short term, I plan to further my education in a Ph.D. program. Long term, I hope to continue to conduct Ornithological research and perhaps become a professor. 

Pharr: I plan to continue researching birds while pursuing my Ph.D. with hopes of landing a research position with either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission.

Perkins: I want to continue creating programs that get people interested in nature and the outdoors. I also want to design urban landscapes that contain sustainable wildlife-friendly spaces.

Woman removes bird from a net

Lauren Pharr, pictured, removes a bird from a net as part of her Graduate Project, "The Effects of Urbanization on Avian Physiology."

What's a fun fact about yourself?

Burgess: The scariest thing I’ve ever done is go swimming with a school of nurse sharks!

Pharr: “The Lion King” is my favorite Disney movie of all time. 

Perkins: I love looking for Red-tailed Hawks and other birds of prey along with highway light posts and utility lines.

Woman smiling with barn swallow chick resting on her hand

Murry Burgess, pictured, with Barn Swallow chick on her hand. Her Graduate Project is titled "Metabolic Health and Physical Development of Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) Chicks Under Natural Darkness and Artificial Light at Night".

Want to learn about more diverse leaders in the outdoors? Head over to Durant Nature Preserve and check out their outdoor kiosk with more information.

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