Finding a Better Way Forward

Submitted by Ahmadou Balde, District Executive

Five weeks ago, I returned to the United States from a trip in West Africa that profoundly affected me. I saw at first sight how the desertion of the youth and young adolescents can affect a society. From the media and family members, I was already aware of some of the societal realities, however, I soon realize that no amount of stories could have prepared me for what I was witnessing. All the initial excitement I had of going back to a place I had been away from a eight years dissipated. Instead, I was ecstatic to get back to start my new job with the Boy Scouts of America. 

The only knowledge I had of this organization was based on the research prior to my interview. I knew I was aligning myself with the right organization to learn for the purpose of eventually giving back. What I did not know was the fact that I was joining a deeply misunderstood organization with a deep seated history. 

A few weeks into my new job, I came to realize the mainstream view of the organization as WHITE ONLY or UPPER MIDDLE CLASS ONLY perpetuates a misunderstanding and prevents the active participation of many individual communities that can profoundly benefit from the Scouting movement. And frankly, I think viewing the Boy Scouts through those lenses is doing injustice to all of us.  Undoubtedly, an organization that is 106 years old has a long and diverse history with its own stereotypes and reputation. However, I strongly believe that it has the solution to the moral decay going on in our respective communities that none of us can afford to ignore.  

Recently, I heard a compelling story from a Scouter. As a child, his single mom dropped him at Scout meetings. With her competing priorities and responsibilities, she barely had the time, but she was entirely committed to having her son participate in Scouting. I guess she saw how the different camping activities would teach him how to live in a pluralistic society and how the respective field trips would open his sense of curiosity. But I think most importantly, she realized how the Scout Law and Oath that he was routinely reciting would forever be ingrained in the psyche of her son. More than 40 years later, she was right. Her child has become a decent man, dedicated to giving back to the world.

Now, I am in no way stating that this man is a decent person only because he joined Scouting. I am sure we can find plenty of examples that provide supporting details. Nevertheless, his story and stories of others show that the historical contribution of the BSA to America was unquantifiable. Just like Scouters, this mother understood early on that with the decline of institutions like families and churches, the presence of an entity with the sole purpose of inculcating people with certain moral values is essential to the well-being of our society. We are beginning to quantify that value today, with longitudinal research.

Before every Scouting meeting, all Scouts are expected to recite the Scout Oath, which goes begins this: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my Country…” As a black African immigrant with a double consciousness, I grapple with the meaning of this phrase. I surely knew duty to God and to country means different things to different people. I wondered if I was just pledging blind loyalty to America or simply reciting a slogan. Fortunately, I came to realize that this one phrase is an affirmation of the longest lasting American promise expressed differently by each generation: the responsibility to leave a better world for our children. It is the God-given duty of self-responsibility for a greater good ingrained in the collective psychology of everyday Americans.

The rising moral decay expressed by rising attitude of indifference, egocentric motivation, perverted aspiration (win at all cost) or the rise of demagogues is a product of our failures to properly react. Consequently, individualism is on the rise with all its ramification. Now, it is of utmost importance that we acknowledge the current reality to properly shape the youth and create a better world. The approach of community based activities and leaderships practiced by BSA in respective neighborhoods to responsibilize adults and prevent children from lionizing morally bankrupt folks and teach them decent moral values will only help reconnect with this promise.

In reality, this situation is a generational challenge that will require the commitment of each and all of us. The Boy Scouts of America has much to offer; however, I know many youth and parents are distancing themselves from the Scouting movement simply due to misunderstanding or historical missteps. The goal of Scouting is to prepare young people for life, to cultivate a higher sense of positive character and decency. At the end, what makes America great is not the fighters or the wealth of the nation. It is the affirmation of social responsibility acted upon by each of generation and expressed by this one phrase recited by every Scout. Now, the continuity of this tradition will depend on our current actions and choices.

2 thoughts on “Finding a Better Way Forward

  1. Dear Mr. Balde:

    Wow! You so hit the nail on the head here! What a great essay and article. I intend to send this out to all the parents in my Den and further bring it up at the Pack level.

    I am an Eagle Scout (from 1986) and can easily attribute so much of my own leadership skills and social responsibility from my time in Scouting. The way Cub and Boy Scouting was ingrained into most communities back when I was growing up though has sadly been lost for many today. Partly it’s how busy families are, dual income parents that have to keep their kids in after school care, partly that even little league sports are treated like high school Varsity sports today, with multiple practices per week etc.

    But then as significant is that “perception gap” that is there: Not being modern or relevant. Not being welcoming or inclusive. All white. Exclusive- and all the rest. That IS a real problem, and I’m not sure it’s a priority at the national Scouting level. Choosing to place the BSA right in the center (and wrong side of history) of the culture wars has done damage that the organization may take years to get over.

    The new Cub Scout manuals are for the most part really great. But for the 4-5 years we now have ONE model character that our scouts see as their guide: as WASPy as you can get (and I am from that demographic BTW). Before it was Akila, which could be anything, but not now. How hard would it have been to have 3-4 different boys featured throughout each handbook? At least give the appearance a little effort is being made, right? Our pack in Salem, MA and is “reasonably” diverse- though not nearly as diverse as the city as a whole. And there is the challenge- how are we to reach out and change hearts and minds about Scouting?
    Thanks again- I’ll be paying more attention to the SOA council site from now on.

    1. Thanks, Doug!
      We’d love to learn from each other, so that we can get better at engaging with folks who are not currently Scouts. We have a noncontiguous District, Beacon of Freedom, whose Executive would love to communicate and share with you. Find Komba Lamina on our “Meet the Staff” page to open a dialogue.

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