■GROWING A COMMUNITY: THE
RECAP AND LOOKING FORWARD
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in
a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”–Nelson
May 2020 saw the start of social media campaigns to highlight
Black people in scientific and natural spaces. Black Birders Week
was the inaugural social media effort, though not the first social media
campaign to highlight the achievements of Black people in science,
technology, engineering and math (STEM) (e.g., #BlackandSTEM
founded by Dr. Stephani Page –Zax, 2014; #VanguardSTEM founded
by Dr. Jedidah Isler –Montgomery, 2018). Black Birders Week was
put together by 16 members in direct response to the Central Park inci-
dent where a White woman tried to weaponize her privilege by falsely
calling the police on a Black male birder who asked her to leash her
dog, which are the park rules (National Audubon Society, 2020). This
incident, coupled with institutional racial injustices, the continued
brutal murdering of Black people by White people and the police
(Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd; #BlackLivesMatter
Movement), and the disproportionally high death tolls of Black and
Indigenous peoples due to the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic
health inequalities (Black/African American: 3.7× higher hospitaliza-
tions and 2.8× higher deaths when compared to White, Non-Hispanic
patients; American Indians/Alaska Native: 4.0× higher hospitaliza-
tions and 2.6× higher deaths; CDC, 2020; data from the United States
only) led to a movement to highlight Black people in science, math,
engineering, arts and technology (STEAM). This ongoing movement,
with weeks such as #BlackBirdersWeek, #BlackBotanistsWeek, and
#BlackinNationalParksWeek, among many others, continues to high-
light Black people in spaces that they have always been in, but are often
not recognized as much as their White peers. It is not uncommon that
Black scientists are hypervisible as representative symbols of diver-
sity, but overlooked or invisible as full professional participants in
STEAM spaces (Settles & al., 2019; Montgomery, 2020). This turbu-
lent backdrop, along with the positive interactions with members and
participants of #BlackBirdersWeek, sparked the commencement of
#BlackBotanistsWeek. Dr. Tanisha M. Williams put out the first tweet
on 8 June 2020 to gauge interest in coordinating such a week (Fig. 1).
The response was overwhelmingly positive, with over 900 likes and
400 retweets (Fig. 1). Dr. Williams and 11 committee members orga-
nized the first #BlackBotanistsWeek, 6–11 July 2020 (website:
https://blackbotanistsweek.weebly.com/). The committee’s goal was,
and still is, to promote, encourage, create a safe place for, and connect
with more Black people who love plants.
Black Botanists Week, like Black Birders Week, took their
respective weeks to highlight Black people in these spaces inside
and out of academia. This approach, along with the Black Botanists
Week committee members’broadening the definition of who is a
botanist, to include anyone who loves plants, whether that be a plant
ecologist, house plant enthusiast, hiker, or artist, really allowed for a
diverse group of people to participate, engage, and be amplified. The
12 Black Botanists Week committee members are diverse them-
selves, ranging from graduate students to professors, from teachers
to conservationists (Fig. 2), enabling the integration of experiences
from different careers and career stages. The committee is also geo-
graphically diverse, made up of members from the U.S., the U.K.,
and South Africa. An important goal of Black Botanists Week was
to reach the global community of Black botanists. As was the orga-
nizing committee, those participating represented a diverse commu-
nity of Black botanists, much like the diversity of plants we study,
tend, and love.
Within the first weeks of organizing the committee members
received support from over 40 organizations, including the Linnean
Society, Botanical Society of America, American Society of Plant
Taxonomists, Plant Love Stories, Canadian Botanical Association,
academic institutions and botanical gardens from around the world.
There was also a lot of individual support by persons that may or
may not have been affiliated with an institution, but who were excited
to learn more about Black botanists and amplify the messaging
throughout the week. By the end of the first day, the Black Botanists
Week hashtag had been used and/or liked by over 40,000 people. At
the end of the week, the top 50 tweeters alone interacted with over
223,000 people from across the world (Fig. 3). Each day was themed
to encourage Black people to share why they love plants, their favorite
plants, what work they do surrounding plants, and to remember Black
botanists that paved the way (Fig. 4). The week saw its highest
participation during the #BlackBotanicalLegacy, #PlantInteractions,
and #BlackPlantLove days. As such, the strong engagement on the
first day of Black Botanists Week was vital in revealing the #Black-
BotanicalLegacy that has often gone unrecognized in history and that
Fig. 1. The first tweet (8 June 2020) about Black Botanists Week.
TAXON 70 (1) •February 2021: 218–224 Plant Systematics World
Fig. 2. The 12 Black Botanists Week committee members.
Fig. 3. Top 50 twitter accounts and their original tweets and retweets. These top 50 accounts interacted with 223,000 people. The inset table shows
the top 10 twitter accounts and their interactions (favorites), retweets and replies within the first two days of the week. These 10 accounts interacted
with over 50,000 people within those f irst days.
Plant Systematics World TAXON 70 (1) •February 2021: 218–224
is largely absent from classroom instruction. Research shows that
students benefit from a multicultural education (Zaldana, 2010)
and same race models (Syed, 2011). By bringing these stories to
the forefront, members highlighted numerous examples of Black
contributions to the botany field that can be incorporated in course cur-
ricula. The week also touched upon two topics that provided a safe place
for Black botanists to discuss what it is like #BotanizingWhileBlack and
share why #DiverseCommunitiesAreStrongCommunities. Black bota-
nists shared unfortunately familiar stories of being followed or harassed
while doing work with plants in the field or enjoying nature. Despite
these everyday attacks on Black people’s lives, there were also many
good stories of field work triumphs, hiking adventures, nature retreats,
and new house plant additions. The participating Black botanists ran-
ged from thevery young, including pre-school gardeners and burgeon-
ing botanists, to the mature. The week also boosted the visibility of the
12 Black Botanists Week committee members. During and following
the week, the committee members have been highlighted in many dif-
ferent ways. News sources from the U.S., Canada and South Africa
also covered this inaugural campaign. There were stories published
in USA Today (Mallenbaum, 2020), WNYC (Floyd, 2020), Cape Talk
(Wiener, 2020), eNCA (Gordon, 2020), Science Rendezvous
(Du, 2020), and Discover Magazine (Betz, 2020). The committee
members continue to uplift and highlight Black botanists through
speaking engagements, podcast interviews, and outreach.
As the committee reflects on our journey to this point, we want to
continue to help the botanical community work towards embracing
diversity, inclusion, equity, justice and becoming antiracist. To do the
work and be an antiracist, individuals and institutions must actively
choose to examine race and racism, historical disparities, personal
biases, and take actions that align with the commitment to end racial
inequalities (Kendi, 2019; Flicker & Klein, 2020; Gupta & Wallace,
2020; SABER, 2020; Smithsonian, 2020). We strongly encourage indi-
viduals and organizations to commit to the following antiracist actions:
(1) A journey of truth and unlearning the propaganda you have
been taught to keep the system of oppression in place. We are asking
everyone to dig deep and learn about the true history of your country
and the world. Examine how continued compliance (or negligence)
of citizens and the passing of laws have systematically disadvantaged
Black people around the world.
(2) Listen to Black people about their lived experiences. Exam-
ine why it is so hard to hear and empathize with someone else’s truth.
(3) Identify racial inequalities and disparities. These should be
identified in every aspect of one’s life (healthcare, education, income,
etc.). Examine how these inequalities and disparities harm Black people.
(4) Identify the racist and/or biased ideas (implicit or not) you,
your organization, etc. hold. Examine how these ideas came to be,
what is wrong about these ideas, and work on ways to actively change
racist views and/or biases.
(5) Support the people, organizations and legislation that are
actively doing antiracist work. There are many local, national, and
global civic organizations working towards racial equity and social
justice. There are also ways in your daily life one can actively work
towards being antiracist and counteracting persistent biases and
inequalities. This is a lifelong commitment we all must make to see
a world where there is equality for all.
Black Botanists Week will be an annual event to celebrate, uplift
and support Black botanists from around the world. In collaboration
with Holden Forest and Gardens, we are currently running a lecture
series entitled “Growing Black Roots: The Black Botanical Legacy”to
amplify the experiences, contributions, and innovation of Black bota-
nists. The series was co-organized by our very own committee member
Maya L. Allen from University of New Mexico in collaboration with
Dr. Juliana Medeiros from the Holden Forest and Gardens. The lecture
series is running from October 2020 to September 2021, learn
more here: https://holdenarb.org/visit/events-lectures/scientist-lecture/
(Fig. 5). To keep up to date on what we are doing subscribe to our
has-a-newsletter) and follow us on twitter (@BlkBotanistsWk).
We thank Emily Rollinson from East Stroudsburg University,
and Elizabeth Munch and Daniel Chitwood of Michigan State Uni-
versity for providing assistance with procuring Twitter data using R
and Python for the #BlackBotanistsWeek hashtag. Work by Beronda
L. Montgomery on outreach, broadening participation and equitable
mentoring is supported by the National Science Foundation (grant
no. MCB-1515002) and the Michigan State University Foundation.
Keywords antiracist; Black botanists; diversity, equity, and
inclusion (DEI); social media; social justice
Fig. 4. Word cloud showing the most popular hashtags associated with
#BlackBotanistsWeek during the week of the inaugural event up until
20 September 2020. Fig. 5. Black Botanists Week is partnering with Holden Forests and
Gardens to put together 11 science lectures every second Wednesday
of the month from October 2020 to September 2021.
TAXON 70 (1) •February 2021: 218–224 Plant Systematics World
Betz, E. 2020. #BlackInNature: How young scientists are pushing for
equality. Discover, 19 June 2020. Available online at: https://
CDC [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] 2020. COVID-19
hospitalization and death by race/ethnicity (2020). Available
online at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/
(accessed 30 Dec 2020).
Du, C. 2020. Plant Love & Founder of Black Botanists Week:
Dr. Tanisha M. Williams. Science Rendezvous, 29 July 2020.
Available online at: http://www.sciencerendezvous.ca/news/2020/
Flicker, S.S. & Klein, A. 2020. Anti-racism resources. Available
online at: http://bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES.
Floyd, J. 2020. Black botanists work towards gaining more visibility.
WNYC radio broadcast audio. Available online at: https://www.
Gordon, M. 2020. Black Botanists Week. YouTube video, 9:27,
posted by “eNCA”, 11 July 2020. Available online at: https://
Gupta, A. & Wallace, B. 2020. Justice in June. Available online at:
Kendi, I.X. 2019. How to be an antiracist. New York: One World.
Mallenbaum, C. 2020. #BlackBirdersWeek, #BlackInNeuro: Black
scientists, physicians are using hashtags to uplift. USA Today.
Available online at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2020/08/
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churches: An interview. Verbum et Ecclesia 23(3): 615–620.
Montgomery, B.L. 2018. Building and sustaining diverse functioning
networks using social media and digital platforms to improve
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Central Park’s ramble. Available online at: https://www.audubon.
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Tanisha M. Williams,
Maya L. Allen,
Georgia Silvera Seamans,
Nokwanda P. Makunga,
& Beronda L.
[Black Botanists Week Committee]
1Bucknell University, Biology Department, One Dent Drive,
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania 17837, U.S.A.
2Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, School of Biological
Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Max Born Crescent, Edinburgh
EH9 3BF, U.K.
3University of New Mexico Biology, Castetter Hall 1480,
MSC03-2020, 219 Yale Blvd NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico
4Washington Square Park Eco Projects, New York, New York 10012,
5Dwight Englewood School, 315 E Palisade Ave, Englewood, New
Jersey 07631, U.S.A.
6Florida State University, Department of Biological Science, 319
Stadium Drive, Tallahassee, Florida 32306, U.S.A.
7National Park Service, 26 Hudson Road, Highlands, New Jersey
8The Botanical Society of South Africa, Private Bag X 10, Clar-
emont, 7735, South Africa
9Stellenbosch University, Department of Botany and Zoology,
Private Bag X1, Matieland, 7602, South Africa
10 Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institut Armand-
Frappier Santé Biotechnologie, 531 boulevard de Prairies, Laval,
Québec H7V 1B7, Canada
11 Purdue University, Department of Botany & Plant Pathology, 915
W. State Street, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, U.S.A.
12 MichiganState University, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular
Biology and Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, 612
Wilson Road, East Lansing, Michigan 48823, U.S.A.
Address for correspondence: Tanisha M. Williams,
First published as part of this issue. See online for details.
Plant Systematics World TAXON 70 (1) •February 2021: 218–224