Divine Nine Wood Badge course aimed at training more Black Scouting leaders

Scouters gathered at the 2019 World Scout Jamboree. From left: Bobby Ray Williams (Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity), Latissa Brown (Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority), Deborah G. Huff (Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority) and Felton L. Davis (Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity). Photo courtesy of Deborah G. Huff

A new Wood Badge course planned for this summer near Austin, Texas, will expand Scouting’s reach by partnering with historically Black fraternities and sororities to engage and train more Black Scouting leaders, equip volunteers with ideas and inspiration, and strengthen Scouting within local communities.

Bobby Ray Williams, an Eagle Scout and executive board member in the Austin-based Capitol Area Council, says the Divine Nine Wood Badge course is designed not to exclude but to open Scouting’s doors even wider.

“We all know Scouting works best with trained leaders,” he says. “And we all tend to join organizations where we feel comfortable. Our hope with this special Wood Badge course is to train more Black Scouting leaders so they will be better equipped to support existing units or start new units.”

The course will use the same Wood Badge curriculum offered everywhere but with a twist: Staffers come from councils across the country, and many are members of the “Divine Nine.” That’s the umbrella term for a group of nine historically Black fraternities and sororities:

  • Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
  • Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
  • Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
  • Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.
  • Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
  • Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.
  • Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc.

Also welcome to join are:

  • Members of the Masonic Order (Freemasons and Eastern Stars of Prince Hall Affiliation)
  • Scouters who serve in urban and rural areas and people of color who serve in diverse populations and communities
  • Anyone who wants to learn how to expand Scouting’s reach in less-served communities

Williams, a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, will serve as the course director. Among his responsibilities: choosing a course theme — a phrase to represent the message underpinning the course. (In my first time on Wood Badge staff, in 2013, the theme was “Lead From the Heart; Leave a Legacy.”)

For the Divine Nine Wood Badge course, Williams chose a theme that’s powerful in its simplicity: “To Be Included.”

“We know that in order to have a voice and representation, it is important to be included,” Williams says.

Brothers of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Sam Houston Area Council’s Wood Badge course in 2016. Photo courtesy of Theo Moody

Inside the course

One of the BSA’s goals is to increase the diversity of its membership, and courses like this are a step toward that goal.

Building alliances with multicultural partners, like the members of the Divine Nine, ensures that leaders at all levels of Scouting — from a new den leader to a council president to a national board member — more fully reflect the communities they serve.

Deborah Glascoe Huff of the Greater Alabama Council will serve as backup course director for the Divine Nine Wood Badge course, a position also known as assistant Scoutmaster for program.

Huff, a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, believes in Wood Badge because it “helps participants understand how Scouting can work — from the perspective of a new Cub Scout in a well-run Cub Scout pack or a new Scout in a Scouts BSA troop.”

This course will be particularly impactful, Huff says, because of its potential to expand Scouting’s footprint.

“Starting with this Wood Badge course, we want to build a bigger network of volunteers of color and encourage more partnership opportunities with historically Black organizations,” she says. “And we will have fun doing it.”

To that last point: Yes, Wood Badge will change your life. But keep in mind, there’s a reason it’s been called “the most fun you can have getting trained.”

Members of the Divine Nine gathered at the 2019 World Scout Jamboree. From left: Stuart Goins, Theo Moody, Latissa Brown, Felton L. Davis, Thomas Wells, Craig Alford, Deborah G. Huff, Dr. David Jackson and Bobby Ray Williams. Photo courtesy of Deborah G. Huff

Paving the way

Huff has been involved in BSA leadership training since 2014. As a Black woman, she says she’s sometimes “the only one in the room” who looks like herself.

Then the 2019 World Scout Jamboree came along, and Huff saw how Williams brought Black Scouters together. She wanted to be a part of that effort — ensuring that more Black women like her would step up to lead at the pack, troop, district and council level.

“I want to do a better job with my commitment to ‘finding my replacement,'” she says, “and bringing people of color into positions of responsibility.”

Michael Files applauds Scouters like Huff. As the vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Capitol Area Council, he sees himself as “advocate and encourager” for the push to make Scouting look more like the communities it serves.

That starts with the Divine Nine Wood Badge course. All Wood Badge courses have a lesson on diversity, but Files expects that session during the Divine Nine course to be particularly impactful and empowering.

“This course will have several conversations on how participants can assist their respective organizations and communities to leverage diversity through inclusion,” Files says. “The Wood Badge staff is developing a comprehensive program in hopes of creating a transformative experience for all participants.”

Participants at the Sam Houston Area Council’s Wood Badge course in 2019. Photo courtesy of the Hon. Dr. Brian E. Rowland

Learn more and register

The Divine Nine Wood Badge course, hosted by the Capitol Area Council, will be held June 20–24, 2022, at Lost Pines Scout Reservation in Bastrop, Texas.

The course is open to Scouters from any council, and registration is now open.

Thanks to Charles Mead of the Capitol Area Council for the blog post idea.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.