“There’s something very wrong?” he said looking up at the overcast sky standing between my house and his cab. As I locked my door, I turned my head to look at him knowing more was coming.
A young African American man in his early twenties sat in the driver’s seat. He turned over the engine and rap poured out a single speaker wedged between the two seats pointed at me. Jay-Z was spitting rhymes. Sounds of 21st century angst and protest filled the cab.
He said again, “Something is wrong.” He added, “There are no birds in the sky. I’m stuck in this cab all day so I only hear bits and pieces of the news.”
I almost said turn on NPR but that would have destroyed the mood edging on protest, real fear in the cab.
I told him a winter storm was coming, which might explain a bird-less sky.
He protested saying, “No, no. There have been birds dropping dead from the sky all over the world.”
I’d said I’d heard one story in the news. It was beginning to feel like an M. Night Shaymalan movie.
We went back and forth sharing two theories as Weezy rapped in the background. I had to speak up because he’d cranked up the music, I think, reflecting a strumming anxiety. Theory 1: fireworks. Theory 2: a storm swept the birds up.
He said, “You know animals are the first to respond to environmental problems.”
I agreed adding that for decades creatures like frogs with delicate skin have long been a barometer of toxic environments. When they disappear, die, because of pollution, it indicates a damaging climate and environmental havoc.
More than fifteen years ago when I began my work in environmentalism this conversation with a young African American man about the modern environment would have been a piece of fiction. Now it is non-fiction and I’m living it. And the people of color expressing concern is ever-increasing exponentially.
Photo by Dianne Glave