A life of poverty, drugs reborn with nature, birds


As a young man in one of Washington, DC’s toughest neighborhoods, Rodney Stotts had little to live for.

Her father had been murdered. His mother was addicted to drugs. Many of his friends had died from gun violence. And he expected to end up dead or in jail.

But in 1992, an environmental program changed his life.

In his new book bird brotherthe 51-year-old writes about the “healing power of wildlife” that took him from drug dealer to wildlife expert.

Stotts told Reuters news agency: “I went from ‘flip birds‘ [a street term for selling cocaine] to the flying birds and the destruction I used to cause in this life, I’m just trying to catch up. He said he hoped Inspire others to take comfort in nature.

The environmental program was created by the filmmaker and environmentalist Bob Nixon. Nixon left Hollywood and moved to Washington, D.C. to start Earth Conservation Corps. His first objective was to clean up the Anacostia River. At that time, the organization called it the “most polluted river in America.” He says the river is flowing”across communities of color with the highest unemployment and crime rates in Washington.

Nixon hired nine young helpers, including Stotts, from a nearby public housing community. Over the next few years, Stotts spent his days cleaning up the river. He also learned about the birds of prey.

The group helped bring bald eagles back to the city. Over time, Stotts found himself more drawn to caring for birds than selling drugs.

Stotts holds a Harris Hawk in his hand as he oversees the construction of an aviary in Laurel, Maryland, May 10, 2022. (REUTERS/Kevin Fogarty)

Stotts said the further he got away from drugs, the happier he seemed. Along the way, Stotts also wanted to become a master falconer.

Becoming a master falconer goes through two major steps: passing a state exam and finding a sponsor. The godfather teaches the important lessons of falconry: the ethics Sport; how to identify, trap and care for birds; and how to release them into the wild.

However, many potential sponsors did not take him seriously. Stotts said a man told him on the phone, “You look like you’re black.” Stotts said he was. The man then told Stotts, “Black people don’t make birds fly…they eat them.”

Eventually he found a sponsor. And last June, he officially became a “master falconer”.

Thirty years after their first meeting, Stotts and Nixon pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

Rodney Stotts, one of the few black American master falconers, speaks to Reuters in a barn in Maryland, May 10, 2022. (REUTERS/Kevin Fogarty)

Rodney Stotts, one of the few black American master falconers, speaks to Reuters in a barn in Maryland, May 10, 2022. (REUTERS/Kevin Fogarty)

On a recent evening in May, Stotts spoke with young people from the Capital Guardian Youth Challenge Academy. This is a program for young school children dropouts working to help injured birds.

Stotts told them to turn off their phones and sit down and listen to the water. He used an old adage, “Stop, and smell the roses,” he told them. “Stop. In fact, stop and smell them.”

I am Anna Matteo.

Vanessa Johnston reported this story for Reuters. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


words in this story

addicted – adj. unable to stop using a drug

flip – v. a street term for selling cocaine

Inspire – v. to move (someone) to act, create or feel emotions

environmentalist – nm a person who advocates conservation including natural resources

prey – nm an animal that is hunted or killed by another animal for food

sponsor – nm a person who takes responsibility for another person or thing: a person or organization that pays for or plans and carries out a project or activity

ethics – nm a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values

to abandon – nm the one who drops out of school

Stop, and smell the roses. – idiom appreciate or appreciate what is often ignored.


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