During this week of hearts and flowers, I’m sending a radio valentine to a special organization — the Girl Scouts, still standing strong for strong girl leaders after 106 years.
I started girl scouting as a Brownie in a troop organized and led by women from my church, Metropolitan Baptist in Memphis, Tennessee. My mother signed me up knowing our troop leaders would shape us to have confidence in ourselves and be proud of who we were. That’s an important message for all growing girls, but it was especially powerful for we young black girls learning to navigate a racially tense environment.
I told this story when the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts honored me as one of their Leading Women awardees. My fellow honorees included power restauranteur and celebrity baker Joanne Chang, a Microsoft scientist, two top executive business women, and an Advisory Board chair. We all traced our growth as mature women and leaders to our experiences as Girl Scouts. It’s what Girl Scouting has always done, and few other organizations do it better. Which is why I was distressed last year when the Boy Scouts suddenly announced it was accepting girls as Boy Scouts. Here in Chelmsford, Cub Scouts Pack 45 welcomed the first new girl Cub Scouts just last month.
It’s not that I don’t have great respect for the Boy Scouts. Some of the best men I know and a few ex-beaus are Eagle Scouts. And why not applaud a move toward apparent equality? But, I can’t ignore the Boy Scouts' checkered history on matters of inclusion, nor can I ignore the fact the Boy Scouts have been losing members in recent years.
I’m not the only one to suspect that the change is about marketing, not mission. Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts share "Be Prepared" as a motto, but I see distinct and subtle differences in how the motto has been interpreted. From the beginning, Girl Scouts' preparedness emphasized learning, leadership and service to others. The Boy Scout handbook emphasized leadership, duty and service, with a lot of camping in the woods. Contrary to what some erroneously believe, Girl Scouting has always included outdoors adventures. That’s in addition to the science programs, community building and DIY activities. Girl Scouts define "girl" as go-getter, innovator, risk taker, leader. Most importantly, Girl Scouts like me thrived under the stimulating and nurturing coaching, which helped me figure out a strategy to sell 200 cases of Girl Scout cookies in one stellar year.
When the Boy Scouts announced the new girl policy, my friend Derrick celebrated. He wrote about how he and his wife successfully integrated girls like Hannah, Ryan and Ariela into the Cambridge Boy Scout troop he led for many years. They told him the experience positively shaped their lives — no doubt. But I know how the girl focus of Girl Scouting embraces and supports girls. There’s a reason it’s the biggest girls leadership program in the world.
Next month, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts will honor the 2018 Leading Women who embody the transformative leadership, which is Girl Scouting. For the honorees and all the Brownies, Cadettes and Ambassadors celebrating their achievements, I proudly raise my right hand in the Girl Scout salute.