Home » Dr. J. Drew Lanham to Give Keynote Address at Warren Wilson College Commencement

Dr. J. Drew Lanham to Give Keynote Address at Warren Wilson College Commencement

by The Urban News
J. Drew Lanham, ornithologist, naturalist, writer, and 2022 MacArthur Fellow.

Dr. J. Drew Lanham will give the keynote address at Warren Wilson College’s Commencement on Saturday, May 11, 2024.

Lanham is an ornithologist, naturalist, poet, writer, MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient, and professor of wildlife at Clemson University. Lanham, who studies songbird ecology and the confluences of race, place, and nature, is a strong advocate for the Black role in conservation, and he studies how culture influences perceptions of nature and its care.

His poetry focuses on gone, or extinct, birds, with the goal of mourning the past in order to save what we still have. He said he thinks of himself as a social activist conservationist who “leverages words for birds.”

“When people understand the context of a forever gone bird’s existence, and what that existence must have been like, it helps us understand the sins of the past that may have driven them to extinction,” he said. “Focusing on those birds, their lives, and how those lives related to my ancestors’ lives, to Black lives especially, wraps the message in a different package that maybe people don’t expect, it leverages head to heart, and ultimately, to some action to do better by birds and by human beings.”

His commencement speech will be about coloring the conservation movement. It’s a topic he has written on extensively, including in ongoing debates and essays with the National Audubon Society.

“I’m frequently asked how we can get more people of color involved in environmentalism and conservation.” Lanham said. “My answer increasingly has become, well first you have to look around and see how people are involved, to understand that Black folks have been intimately associated with nature, by choice but also by force. That amalgam of free will and bondage creates a complex message that the majority of the conservation and environmental community has not taken the time to…

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