Be A Blessing to Somebody

There is so much pain, anger, and mourning on my social media news-feeds. There are some reactive sentiments that should have been thought through way better before they were posted to Facebook. Because of them, many folks will be conducting damage control with their friends, family, constituents, and co-workers in the coming months. But there is as much expression of empathy and compassion. There are genuinely helpful words and article and video shares. There are reminders of the ancient wisdoms that our ancestors passed down to us. Last night I went to bed with all this on my mind. And I woke up thinking about how it must be to not feel equally protected under the law based on my race or culture.

I consider myself an empathetic person, but it is difficult for me to imagine not feeling confident to do what I presently do or go all the places that I go. I’ve never feared the police because of my race or anything else. In fact, I was raised by a cop. I’ve never felt immediately threatened or unwelcomed by the confederate flags waving in front of houses in various places along the route to my favorite national park in the way Glenn Nelson from Trail Posse has described. They are only harmless icons that disappoint me. I’ve never had to wonder if someone who hates me because of how I look lives there.

The places that made me feel uncomfortable have always been easy to avoid because 99.995% of the country welcomes me based on how I look. I’ve always felt like the system supported me. Yet, so many of my friends, family, and loved ones do not know this feeling. I want everyone to feel as safe as I do. I want everyone to feel like they can access all the same opportunities that I can. I want everyone to love the experiment that the United States is as much as I do.

The data from all the reputable sources show that many American communities do not feel, and are not experiencing, equal protection under the law, especially young black men. This is a problem that we should ALL care about. Speaking up, discussing, and taking action to resolve this inequality is the right thing to do. It is our duty as Americans to demand peace and justice for all of our citizens. It most certainly matters. Do not cheapen or simplify this essential effort by referring to it as political correctness. Resolving this disparity is to live in the universal truth of loving your neighbor as yourself. Turning this wisdom into a way of being is crucial for humanity’s long-term survival and should be applied in earnest this week when you read and watch the news and discuss it with those around you. We will continue moving toward equality and prosperity if we have “Love thy Neighbor” in the front of all our responses regarding the unfolding social justice/racial inequality situations.

I know some cannot relate to the “love thy neighbor” motivation for equality, and to you I recommend exploring the other peaceful resolutions because resolving the inequality issue is essential for everyone’s prosperity.

Thanks, Cathy Wolz Barr for sharing this video of Maya Angelou with me. It has really helped me keep perspective. Maya reminds us that among the clouds there are rainbows. “Be a blessing to somebody.” Please watch and share her words.

No Place For Birds: And How you Can Fix That

Hello, for those of you who don’t already know, I am a crew supervisor for a state youth workforce development program called the California Conservation Corps. Many of my future blogs will be about the work that I do and the youth who I do it with. And a few of them may even be from those young adults. This post is an article written by one of those corps members: Karlee Jewell.

Karlee was one of two corps members who was selected to go with me to National Geographic’s BioBlitz Event to perform the BioBlitz Dance onstage at an event commemorating the centennial anniversary of the USA’s National Park Service. That’s us pictured above with the US Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell. Karlee is next to the Secretary, and corps member Sierra Preston is wearing the red hat.  Karlee’s commitment to the outdoors is not just about celebrating the outdoors with dances–although she is certainly down to the BioBlitz Dance whenever. In this article, she introduces you to some action that you can easily take to help wildlife.  –John Griffith


No Place For Birds:

And How You Can Fix That

by Karlee Jewell

Imagine that it’s a Tuesday, you’re done with work, and on your way home you stop at your local market to pick up dinner for you and your family. It’s not until you walk inside that you realize something is unusual. On sale in the meat department is poisonous salamander. This surprises you, and a quick look at the next option proves to increase your confusion: why on earth are toxic frog legs for sale? My family and I can’t eat that. Flustered, you leave the meat department and head to the produce section, you remembered seeing some lush greens on your way in, so you decide to make a salad this evening. You walk up to those same greens and read the sign above them: Poison Hemlock and Poison Oak Salad Mix. You’re baffled. You take a step back to survey the scene. With salt and pesticide laden grass blades in the chip aisle and canned sand dollar shells in the canned goods aisle, you realize the entire grocery store is filled with inedible items. And there’s nothing to drink for sale at all! Not even a water faucet in the bathroom. How can this be? From the outside, this grocery store looked like every other.

With growing hunger and frustration you leave and make your way down the block to another market. To your dismay, this store offers nearly all of the same options as the previous one. Hungry, tired, and confused you check the stores across town and in the next town only to realize there is no food around that you and your family can eat. This is the grim reality that many native bird, insect, and mammal species are faced with when they migrate through suburban America. Our yards offer little in the way of nutrition for a migrating or parenting animal.

Due to lack of adequate water sources, few places to hide, and our rampant planting of non-native ornamental plants, many insects, birds, and mammals are left without habitat. The ornamental plants most popular in American yards are usually from Asia and are advertised as “pest-free” when they should actually be called “butterfly-free.” Our native butterflies did not evolve with these ornamentals. This means, in a majority of cases, they do not lay eggs on them because their baby caterpillars cannot munch on the leaves.  Aside from their native larval host plants, butterflies also need nectar sources in order to thrive.

Most bird parents feed their nestlings caterpillars and other insects; so you could just as aptly call those “pest-free” plants, “bird-free” plants. Our backyards are the pit stops and grocery stores for wildlife. When so many of them fail to provide adequate food and water, wildlife finds themselves in the same imaginary grocery store described above. My supervisor, coworker, and I created this skit to help you see what birds may be experiencing.

As a member of the California Conservation Corps (CCC), I am reminded daily that we’re all capable of making positive impacts. Be it participating in restoration projects, wildlife conservation, using reusable bags, planting a native garden, or responding to natural disaster emergencies, we all make choices to conserve and support our communities and protect our planet. But you don’t have to join one of the many corps programs in the United States to help the environment. What if I told you that we all have the opportunity to make a difference right here in our own backyards? In fact, you don’t even need a backyard. A patio, a planter box, or any small space available outside is enough to save insects and animals.

America’s oldest and largest conservation organization, The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), has created a tool which enables all of us to take actions to do just that. By partnering with NWF, we all have the opportunity to create a Certified Wildlife Habitat. In order to certify your yard, balcony, schoolyard and/or place of work, you just need to make sure that the four habitat requirements exist in that space: food, water, cover, and places for wildlife to raise their young.

Now before you look away thinking this is an unachievable feat, bear with me. It’s easier than it sounds. Often times a native plant can provide three of the four habitat components all on its own: food, cover, and places to raise young.  Nectar, pollen, leaves, sap, seeds, fruits, and berries are examples of food that native plants can provide. Water sources include birdbaths, natural features like a frog pond or stream, a shallow dish, or even a muddy puddle for butterflies. Aside from native plants, cover and places to raise young can also be: thickets, roosting boxes, rock or stick piles, and unraked yards.

By creating Certified Wildlife Habitat, we will be able to experience, understand, and connect with the natural world we live in. Think of one of your closest friends, did you start out as besties right off the bat? Most likely not. You probably spent time with one another, grew closer through shared experiences, began to understand each other, and built bonds. Picturing life without them now invokes thoughts of sadness and loss. This is the same connection we hope to foster through creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat. You will start to care about the wildlife you watch and share space with because you will begin to better understand them.

The scenario of the grocery store with inedible food is an example of what happens when we plant “pest-free” plants in our gardens. Fortunately, we can easily solve this problem. Take for instance the beautiful monarch butterfly; it depends on flowering nectar plants for food and milkweed as its larval host plant. Due to current cultural practices, both are in decline throughout its migration range, and as a result, the monarchs’ population has suffered greatly. But we can help them! We can plant milkweed, their larval host plant in our outdoor spaces. By creating wildlife habitat we can take steps to mitigate some of the challenges that monarchs, and other wildlife, are facing.

Chances are that if you plant natives then you are planting a larval host plant for some butterfly species—the native plant they evolved to lay their eggs on.  Not sure which native plants grow in your area? No problem, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has an online collection of native plants by state.

Imagine all the wildlife that would benefit if every member program of the 21st Century Corps took advantage of the opportunity to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat through NWF.  We’ve already started. As seen in When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors, a book written by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, director of NWF CA, the CCC residential centers of Ukiah and Fortuna have certified their campuses. The process included corps members building a relationship with their wild roomies by planting drought tolerant native plants that serve as larval hosts for native butterflies and colorful nectar sources for native bees and other pollinators. And that was just the beginning. Now, members of the 21st Century Corps, NWF, conservationists, wildlife lovers, and nature nuts alike must continue to engage others, speak with our actions, and raise awareness for the betterment of all our community members—furry, fuzzy, and feathery alike.

Your BioBlitz Dance Invitation

Greetings from John Griffith, creator of the BioBlitz Dance.  This is your official invitation to be a part of the BioBlitz Dance Movement! The BioBlitz Dance is a celebration of the outdoors, diversity within the conservation movement, and the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service. There have been over 60 BioBlitz Dance videos from various groups posted on YouTube and/or Facebook.  The number is expected to grow exponentially by this summer.

The BioBlitz Dance was created after my California Conservation Corps (CCC) crew and I were invited by Outdoor Afro’s founder and CEO, Rue Mapp, to participate in National Geographic’s 2014 BioBlitz Event at the Golden Gate National Parks. We made the first BioBlitz Dance video for the event and were amazed that it received over 30,000 views. The dance has spread quickly with BioBlitz Dances coming from all corners of the USA, New Zealand, Kenya, Nigeria, and Romania. To learn more about the dance’s history, please check out the link “BioBlitz Dance’s Creation Story” below.


The BioBlitz Dance has some guidelines that you should learn about before checking out the tutorial video:

  • The BioBlitz Dance must be done outdoors. You are welcome to practice it indoors, but when you are ready to record it, it must happen outside.
  • Upload the video of your BioBlitz Dance to YouTube and include the words, “BioBlitz Dance” somewhere in your title. Example: Malheur Refuge Liberation BioBlitz Dance.
  • More than ever we need a unifying message and celebration of public lands. That’s why we strongly encourage everyone to stick with the original three core moves of the BioBlitz Dance. Again, you must include the three core moves, or it’s not the BioBlitz Dance. The moves: Black Bear, Turkey Vulture, and Ground Squirrel can be renamed to reflect animals in your park if you’re interested in using the dance as an interpretive tool. However, please do not change the moves. The moves are what identify it as the BioBlitz Dance and connect all of us who celebrate the outdoors, diversity within the conservation movement, and public lands no matter where we are.
  • The fourth move of the BioBlitz Dance is designated as a freestyle, where each individual dancer can bust their signature moves. In addition, this is also an opportunity for your group to create your own unique fourth move. For example, Shepherdstown Elementary School created a ‘Brook Trout Dance’ as their fourth move to reflect an animal they had studied recently. Your fourth BioBlitz Dance move could be another popular dance like the Twist, the Quan, or the Nae Nae like the group Keeping It Wild did to great effect.  (see link below).

If you are in California and would like to take some BioBlitz Dance lessons, my corps members and I will be doing two BioBlitz Dance Workshops this year (with more in the works but yet to be scheduled). The first is at The BLM Youth Summit on Feb 19th on the Sacramento University campus. The second is at the National Association of Interpretation Conference on the Humboldt State University campus on April 3rd.

Please share this with anyone who may be interested. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Don’t miss the links below.

Thanks for being a person who is interested in celebrating the outdoors with a dance!

Kind regards:

John Griffith

BioBlitz Dance 2016 Update: 

National Geographic blog on the BioBlitz Dance: 

BioBlitz Dance tutorial:

BioBlitz Dance Creation Story: 

BioBlitz Dance Playlist: 

Two examples of great fourth moves:

Shepherdstown Elementary School’s BioBlitz Dance:

Keeping It Wild: 

John Griffith’s YouTube Channel: 

BLM Youth Summit: 

NAI Region 9 Workshop: 


School Sucked… Mostly

If you had asked the eighteen-year-old me if I were planning to go to college, the answer would have been a resounding “hell no.” I had dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade and only received my GED a couple years later because a program that I was in (California Conservation Corps) forced me into that process. School was like church to me: a place where you were forced to sit down, hold still, stay awake, and shut up. There were only a few instances where either place struck me as an institution that inspired learning. To me, they were more like punishments, or some form of negative phenomena meant to keep us from being happy and free. But at the time, I also suspected that I was almost alone in this perspective. I wondered if I hated school because I wasn’t smart enough to keep up with everyone else. I adopted the outlook of, “There’s no point in trying, I will never get it.” But since it was so boring, it didn’t even bother me that everything seemed to be going over my head.  I hated it. School was a bully. I decided that I would never like anything that tried to control me and keep me from playing outside.

The adults in my life, excluding my mother, quickly gave up encouraging me academically. They seemed happy to accept my barely average grades and to celebrate my athletic skills. The goal was always for me to get c’s, so that I could continue in school sports. In high school, I can’t recall anyone ever telling me that I needed to understand my classwork. But they let me pick which numbers were on my jersey.

Years previous, in early primary school, teachers wanted to hold me back because I was hyperactive. Those were observant teaches. After all, my few memories of kindergarten to second grade are of chasing or being chased by other kids, singing, painting, throwing dodge balls, and dancing. My brain didn’t even record the academic aspects like learning to add, subtract, and read, which came to me later than it did for my classmates.

Had I been born a decade or so later, I’m sure I would have been diagnosed ADD and medicated. In spite of the teachers’ recommendations to hold me back, my mom would never let them.  She’d point out that I was already the biggest kid in class. Another year held behind, and she figured I’d have a real stigma as the big, dumb guy.

My parents decided to put me into a private Christian school for third, fourth, and fifth grades where “spare the rod and spoil the child” was practiced. I guess they bought into the popular belief that some fear would inspire genius. As you can imagine, most of my time there sucked. To this day, when I recall my third and fourth grade teachers, I have to concentrate on not being angry and forgiving them. They were being what they were taught to be. Those teachers planted the seed to educational resistance in me. I was swatted publicly for day dreaming, restlessness, finding humor in between the mundane, and wanting to go outside. I can’t remember those teachers ever smiling at me. I was scared of them. I did what they asked and no more, fearing a wood paddle if I failed to comply. I never wanted to go to school.

I hate to think what may have happened were it not for my fifth-grade teacher. Nothing about Mr. Robinson was boring or oppressive. It was apparent that he loved to teach. He recognized my hyperactivity and often brought me to the front of the class and incorporated me into the lessons. The participatory role helped me realized that I could learn just as quickly as anyone else when the education was presented in a more entertaining way. I saw my highest grades ever in fifth grade. I never got swatted in his class. No one did. Learning became exploration. Reading and tree climbing suddenly seemed to be in similar categories rather than on two different planets. I loved school. But after that year, I never met another Mr. Robinson until college. My grades and interest fell back to previous levels.

Because of a life-long interest in nature, by the time I was a twenty-year-old United States Forest Service fisheries/fire crew seasonal, I was already a more accomplished naturalist than many of the biologists that I worked with. And I wanted a fulltime career like theirs. As far as I was concerned, I was already qualified. But no… I quickly learned that I was required to have an applicable degree to be hired as a fulltime wildlife biologist.  Begrudgingly, I became a college student. My first several semesters were struggles. There were parties to attend and bongo drums inviting me to dance. And since I was a drop out, I had to start at the academic bottom to catch up with my peers.  Even after five semesters, I was still considered “almost a sophomore.”

If the professors were passionate, and the subjects were interesting, I’d get A’s or B’s in those classes. If not, I’d get C’s or worse. Eventually a professor who recognized my independence and challenges suggested that I create my own Bachelor’s in Science. This prospect excited me. It was quite the process to do, but by the time it was all approved, I graduated with a degree that was a combination of plant science, Latin American Studies, International Studies, and range science. It was titled, International Crop Production, Latin America.  And it was unique to me. For the first time since fifth grade, I felt like a participant in my own education.

It took me almost ten years to get my Bachelor’s degree. In that decade, I matured into loving education, seeking it out, and encouraging others to guide their own. I learned that it could have been this way all along. Some of us need more than just education: we need edu-tainment. We need the fundamentals of human learning sang into us, played into us, painted into us, and danced into us. We need to be inspired and equipped to explore it for ourselves. We need it to be applicable to the real world. Education should always be perceived as the essential and engaging ally, not the oppressive killer of fun. Awe not fear should inspire learning. This is the wisdom that I gained through my schooling.  I want to be the humane educator who inspires others to become solutionaries. I want to be the people’s Mr. Robinson.