Listen to this article here
Falconry and Black folks don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but Bird Brother: A Falconer’s Journey and the Healing Power of Wildlife may be able to change that.
D.C. native Rodney Stotts, who began his journey to master falconer over a decade ago, has recently published his 5 Stars Amazon rated book, however well before that, he was a self-described mid-level drug dealer in Southeast D.C., which according to Stotts, only offered a few lifestyles: professional sports, drug-using, or drug dealing.
In his new book, Bird Brother, he details his transformation from drug dealer to one of the only Black master falconers in North America.
How did Rodney Stotts get into Falconry?
In the book, Stott details his first time seeing a red-tailed hawk in the middle of a drug deal. “I just saw this huge hawk [fly across] … and everyone was saying, ‘Come on, come on, you know, put your money up,'” he told The Current’s guest host Duncan McCue. “I’m like, ‘Hold on, man. I’m watching this bird.'”
“People were looking at me like I was crazy because you’re standing there, you have a gun, they have guns, money, drugs … [and] you’re standing here looking at a bird.”
In the 1990s, Rodney Stotts was selling drugs in the Linda Pollin Memorial Housing Project, which residents called the LP.
“I remember laughing at a 1991 Washington Post article that called the LP the most lethal block in the city,” Stotts writes in his new memoir.“The other dealers and I felt a weird pride about that tag. After all, what else did we have to be proud of?”
Yet, the exceptionally violent lifestyle that brought them pride eventually caught up with Stotts. In 2002, he was arrested for dealing drugs, and given a two-year sentence, with all but 120 days suspended.
“That was the best thing that could have happened to me because it gave me time to really sit down and evaluate what was more important in my life,” he said.
Racism exists even in falconry.
Once released, becoming a master of falconry didn’t come without the predictable dose of discrimination. When attempting to acquire a sponsor for falconry, according to Stotts, “one guy said, ‘You sound like you’re a Black man … Black people don’t fly birds. Y’all eat them,'” he said. “I just burst out laughing. It was funny to me, and it just fueled me to keep going.”
His path to master falconer started with a job removing trash from the Anacostia River with the Earth Conservation Corps. He went from making $7000 a week on the street to $100 a week.
Today, Stotts runs what he calls a ‘human sanctuary’ in Charlotte Court House, Virginia. His seven-acre property, called “Dippy’s Dream” after his late mother (her nickname was Dippy) is closer to North Carolina than the Southeast D.C. neighborhood where he grew up. He’s surrounded by animals, he says. There are horses, goats, chickens, and of course, birds of prey. Stotts says his goal for this place is to create a space where anyone can come to get away, find solace, and heal.
Rodney Stott gives back to the culture.
“What I want to be able to do is offer people the chance to come down and pitch a tent, camp out, and sleep under the stars. You’ll be able to ride horses,” Stotts says.
Stotts says there’s no set charge to visit his property. It’s donation-based. “Because you can’t afford something doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it,” Stotts says. Through his organization Rodney’s Raptors, Stotts also teaches children and adults about predatory birds like hawks and owls.
“To have these young people understand that because you are Black or because you’re from the [housing] project or because you’re not wealthy, you can still have and do and prosper just as anyone else can, that’s the one thing I love to see in their faces,” Stotts said.
You can find a copy of Stott’s new book here.