Two years ago, there were three majority Black Boy Scouts troops with just 23 members in Marion County. Today, more than 300 Black youth are members of 12 majority Black troops. That growth is a result of an initiative of Crossroads of America Council in Central Indiana, the regional body that governs Marion County troops, to attract more Black boys — and girls.
"Knowing how difficult it is to recruit older youth into the program, those are leaps and bounds," Bryant Marion, Crossroad's inclusiveness director, said.
Crossroads has partnered with local leaders and organizations to accomplish this goal. It works with organizations such as Indiana Black Expo, Tindley Renaissance Elementary School and 100 Black Men of Indianapolis. To reach new people, Crossroads has manned booths at both Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration and Black Expo's career fair for three years. Tindley Renaissance Elementary School launched a school program two years ago encouraging students to join the Scouts. In order to give Scouts role models, 100 Black Men of Indianapolis started providing volunteer mentors.
"You've got to do it community by community and find that key individual in the community who can be an advocate for scouting," Joe Wiltrout, CEO and scout executive of Crossroads of America, said.
Another part of the initiative is Crossroads' Inclusiveness Committee, a group that meets monthly to assess and initiate plans to recruit diverse scouts and create a quality experience for them. For example, the committee partners with middle schools to recruit scouts.
"We are constantly evolving the plan we put into place to grow our initiative," Marion said.
So far, the initiative has only recruited boys, but it's expanding to girls as well. Marion is recruiting girls for Crossroad's first all-Black female troop, which he expects to begin meeting within three months. While the female scouts will be in separate troops from the boys, they will still be able to meet in the same locations and will follow the same oath and law.
"Scouting is a great opportunity for everybody, and why would we limit ourselves to only allowing young men to have an opportunity?" Marion said. "The values scouting brings, the Scout Oath and the Scout Law, translate to not just males. Those values translate to females as well. ... If we want a great society we need males and females to be great leaders."
Nathan Phillips, scoutmaster of Troop 123, which is sponsored by Recorder Media Group, believes the initiative will help Black youth because scouting connects them with mentors who teach virtues such as kindness, loyalty and bravery. Phillips believes such ideals kept him out of trouble when he was a Boy Scout, so he volunteers to teach the same lessons to his troop. The time commitment is tough since Phillips works full time and has a family, but his impact on the Scouts makes it worthwhile.
"When you see boys come along with a smile on their face, and you know you made a difference, and you see them step up and start advancing in rank, you know you did the right thing," Phillips said.
While scouting can offer opportunities such as scholarships, Marion asserts the lessons found in the Scout Oath and Law are the biggest reason to reach out to more African American boys and girls. He said a commitment to the oath and law creates responsible adolescents who grow into honorable adults.
"If we can get more African American youth into scouting, we will see and explosion of productivity," Marion said. "If we really want to see our neighborhood, that we keep seeing in the news week after week because of crime changed, I dare say let's get some scouting troops started in those communities where some service projects can be put together."
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.
The Scout Oath
Scouts obey the following oath. "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."
The Scout Law
The Scout Law highlights what characteristics make a good scout. "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."
Partner with the Boy Scouts
Looking to donate time, money or skills to Boy Scouts, enroll a boy or girl in scouting or possibly start your own troop? Call 317-813-7125, email email@example.com or visit crossroadsbsa.org.