Epiphany Hosts 100 Teens and Adults for Workshop on new Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Merit Badge on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
By Kat Randolph
On February 11, more than 100 teens and adults came to Epiphany to participate in a day-long workshop and explore topics around diversity, equity, inclusion and ethical leadership. The teens, all members of ScoutsBSA troops, came from across the Puget Sound – from Anacortes to Auburn, from Sequim to Sammamish – to earn the new “Citizenship in Society” merit badge. The merit badge, the latest initiative in the BSA’s ongoing commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, was announced in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, and is now required to earn Eagle Scout, the highest rank in scouting.
The merit badge is unlike any other merit badge. Rather than learning traditional scouting skills, such as knot tying, first aid or camping, scouts embark on a journey of learning and self-discovery to further understand, respect and engage in the diverse world we live in. The workshop combines small group discussions, experiential learning, interaction with professionals working in the DEI field, and a service project.
Through discussions and activities, scouts reflect on how the values of the Scout Law – being trustworthy, loyal, friendly, helpful, courtesy, kind, brave, etc. – are relevant to becoming their best selves. In one activity, the scouts select four words of the scout law that are particularly meaningful to them when interacting with others that are different, and then inscribe those words on a wooden medallion they wear around their necks. They then talk about how a physical compass helps them navigate in the real world, and how this “moral compass” can help them navigate through our complex and diverse world and become good and empathetic allies and leaders.
The workshop featured a panel of three professionals working in the area of diversity in different sectors: business, healthcare and government. The keynote speaker was Blair Taylor, managing Director of Talent & Organization/North American Lead for Inclusion & Diversity at Accenture, the world’s largest consulting firms. Mr. Taylor was joined for a panel discussion with Dr. Kristin Conn, a family practitioner and head of diversity for Kaiser Permanente, and with Commissioner Toshiko Grace Hasegawa, VP of the Port of Seattle Commission and Executive Director of Washington State’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. All three of the speakers have kids themselves, and connected well with the scouts to provide relevant insight on topics such as the importance of representation.
In the service project, the scouts spent a few hours in the Madrona Woods and Madrona Estuary, clearing invasive species and hauling mulch. The service project not only provided time outdoors as a break from discussion, but emphasized that scouts aspire to be “in right relationship” with both people and nature.
As a board member of the Chief Seattle Scout Council in charge of diversity, I work with fellow board members and other volunteers to organize the workshops. Our first was held last June at Camp Long, with a service project at the Duwamish Longhouse and the Duwamish Greenbelt. For the second workshop, it was particularly meaningful to hold it at Epiphany for several reasons. First, Epiphany is a welcoming place committed to serving the community and to racial reconciliation. Secondly I have deep connections to the Epiphany community (I’m a parishioner. My three kids graduated from Epiphany school. My boy-girl twins earned Eagle rank in Epiphany’s scout troops, and I was the inaugural scoutmaster of the girls troop 8015). Third, our scout troop and I have been invested in the success of the new merit badge – and the ideals it represents — since it was first announced.
In June 2020, when all of us were dealing with the dual challenges of COVID-19 and the protests going on, the BSA came out with the BSA’s Commitment to Act Against Racial Injustice. It read, “The twelve points of the Scout Law that define a Scout are all important, but at this moment, we are called on to be brave. Brave means taking action because it is the right thing to do and being an upstander even when it may prompt criticism from some. We realize we have not been as brave as we should have been because, as Scouts, we must always stand for what is right and take action when the situation demands it”.
My kids and I were heartened that BSA National was taking a stand in support of Black Lives Matter and against racism or discrimination of any kind. But what really struck us was that BSA was creating this new merit badge which would be required for Eagle rank. This made a big impact on the kids, and made them believe more in the values and relevance of Scouting. At the same time, I’d joined an in-depth discussion group at Epiphany to explore faith and race. At the end of the 12 week program, we had to make a commitment to doing something to make a difference. I committed to “be brave” and work with on racial reconciliation, healing and justice through scouting.
The Chief Seattle BSA Council is among the more progressive scouting councils in the country. Its leaders have been influential in changing membership policies to be more inclusive, such as welcoming LGBTQ+ youth and leaders, as well as girls. But in 2020 we didn’t have a formal DEI committee, so the executive board created one and elected me the first VP of Diversity. The board hired a new executive leader, Manny Ramos, the first person of color to lead the council. As part of our priorities and commitments, we’ve focused on making the new merit badge a success locally and nationally.
In the summer of 2021, we were invited to preview the requirements before they were launched publicly and provide feedback. Working with a dozen guys and girls from Troops 15/8015, we did a test run of the new merit badge. The kids really got into it. They wanted to talk about how they were dealing with issues of race, ethnicity or gender, or with bullying at school or on social media. The older scouts, those who were juniors or seniors in high school, gave advice to the younger ones in middle school, on how to handle situations, and assured them that it’s ok, maybe even cool, to be kind and stand up for others.
The feedback from our scouts was incorporated in the final guidance for the badge when it was rolled out nationally. The approach and activities we developed in our troop have been incorporated into our council wide workshops. Scouts from Troop 15 and 8015 have continued to play a key role in the workshops, acting as peer facilitators and moderating the panel of experts working in the field of diversity.
We emphasize to scouts, that while the badge is required for Eagle ran, “earning it” is not a check-the-box exercise. Rather, it is one step in a lifelong journey of gaining awareness of and respect for differences; of building empathy-based relationships with others, and making commitments to building inclusive community. Once the kids earn the badge, we invite them to participate in subsequent workshops, so they can stay part of the community and grow into leadership roles.
The council plans to hold these workshops at least twice a year. The next one will be on June 10th at Camp Long and the Duwamish Longhouse and forest. The plan is to make the workshop at Epiphany an annual event. If you are interested in learning more, or getting involved, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.