Lonely Conservationists

Sean (Blind Passion)

Written by Sean Washington

I can’t name a specific pillar moment that my life began to shift toward natural resources and conservation studies. Mostly because it was gradual but so solid it seemed destined. Like looking for the stars. You merely have to wait and explore the eternal sky for new questions, topics, and possibilities to pass your scope.

Before I knew it, Christmas was when I’d get books and toys themed after any animal imaginable, I had a birthday at the zoo, I apparently played “Did you know…” on a 5 hour road trip (sorry dad. lol) and I was going home in elementary school to watch Steve Irwin, Jeff Corwin, Jane Goodall and the many documentaries about any living thing I could find on the guide. Somewhere in that phase I learned the word conservationist and was spouting it like it was my own special big word to say.

You could say that children are blind in the best way possible. When you were little you didn’t see people, you saw the passion they had. You didn’t see the problems, you saw solutions. You didn’t see limitations, you saw possibilities.

Fast forward to my senior year in high school, and the career as a conservationist had been replaced by wildlife ecologist and the better part of my days were spent outside, in the field, exploring places, making discoveries and seeing first-hand how beautifully connected the planet is just like the people I used to watch on television. After telling this to family members it was almost routine that I’d get a chuckle, a smile in order to check and see if I was serious, and a phrase that I for the longest time believed to be a joke, “that’s some white people stuff.”

After hearing that phrase 100+ times from friends and family members, I first started to think this was a joke. So outlandish and brash that there’s no way that people of colour actually believe this. I learned otherwise around my last few weeks before leaving my hometown of Oklahoma City, OK.

I was telling my aunt about the dream job I had and after receiving the same comment I’d heard a hundred times or more, my brain hit a tipping point I guess. “Why?” I asked her. There was no real answer beyond that she hadn’t seen anyone of colour doing it.

This opened a new door that my child-like blindness had removed from my mind until that moment. The realization that there aren’t a large number of people of colour in natural resources majors (far fewer that graduate in natural resources {and exponentially less that are well known in that field}) it’s normally a set of statistics that can make someone stop dead in their tracks and choose a different area of study.

But my passion, stubbornness and drive only dug their heels in and said “let’s go!” You see I took that as nothing more than a market that needs to be opened, not one to avoid. I told myself that being a name in natural resources in my family, locally, regionally or nationally despite the fact that I’m African American, will help that statistic by showing other people like me that you don’t have to be rich or white to do what you love. You just have to be passionate.

That passion drove me to starting a club while at Colorado State my freshman year and meeting with and interviewing Zack Rago from the Netflix documentary Chasing Coral, becoming Citizen Science coordinator for the Ornithology club my sophomore year, start a blog and LLC about environmental science and education, work at a zoo where I get to act on that passion to make people excited about conservation and create on a campus research project that’s accessible to all students to take part in regardless of age, disability and major.

Your passion and drive will open doors that take you places you never thought, but also open routes for others that come behind you to find their passion or get closer to their own thing.

For more from Sean, check out @seans_wild_world on Instagram

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