The purpose of this information is to help professional Scouters gain valuable insight into African American culture and introduce them to successful techniques for marketing and serving this vital growing population. We also want to provide Scouters with strategies to help recruit African American volunteers. The Boy Scouts of America must be positioned to provide Scouting in underserved communities and, specifically, those families that provide unprecedented opportunity. You may find that many community members don't have a tradition or point of reference of the positive impact Scouting can have on their children's lives and the community as a whole. Therefore, the fundamental and basic goals of the Scouting program must be highlighted.
In 2012, the African American population of 39.7 million represents 12.7 percent of the total U.S. population. It is projected that the number of African Americans in the U.S. will increase to 59 million by 2050 to represent 13.4 percent of the U.S. population. In addition, the African American population is young, with an estimated median age of 33 years, four years younger than the median for the U.S. population as a whole. In 2012, there were 19 states plus the District of Columbia where African Americans made up the largest non-white group, including Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. As you can tell from these demographics, the African American population provides a great opportunity for expanding Scouting, and Scouting provides a great opportunity for promoting the positive framework that African American youth need to build productive lives and futures.
As you would expect, when marketing Scouting to the African American population, parents are our key focal point. Parents are extremely influential in determining what programs their children join and want to know who is working with their children. They feel it's important that those who are giving direction and guidance are African American men and women. Scouting program leaders in the urban community must get to know the parents and establish trust with them. The best way to begin building these relationships is through home visitation. These visits are a great way to provide progress reports on the positive effects that Scouting is having on their children.
When approaching an African American family about the benefits of Scouting, you should highlight the following: Scouting is an educational program that teaches leadership skills, survival skills, ethical values and character, caring skills, citizenship, and responsibility. Explain how Scouting builds real self-esteem and self-respect while giving boys and young men opportunities to explore new horizons, achieve recognition, and participate in physical and mental fitness programs. Let them know how Scouting programs teach African American youth to work together in groups, and how Scouting provides opportunities for counseling and mentoring sessions. Throughout America, mentoring programs are being organized in urban areas to provide value system support and constant relationships to youth of single-parent or dysfunctional families. Scouting provides the opportunity for boys to come into contact with influential adult leaders who will make a lasting impression on their lives. To increase involvement, it's a good idea to have parents from three or four families come together in a home setting for an explanation of how the Scouting program can benefit their families and the community.
Community is an important concept. When marketing to African Americans, you must take the time to get to know your target community. Don't make assumptions about your audience. Throw out any preconceptions about them that are not based on extensive personal contact. Instead, learn by listening. A good way to familiarize you with the community is to conduct formal or informal market research. Talk with employees or volunteers who have roots in the community. You also need to identify key community organizations and activists. Talk to them, too. Ask them where people who are new to the community should go for information. Find out which people or organizations they trust, and ask them who they think would be an effective spokesperson for your message. Be culturally sensitive in your marketing approach. Make sure people can identify with images used in publications and media. For example, if your target audience is primarily African American, show African American people in your marketing materials. Again, avoid stereotypes and ensure that materials are acceptable by pretesting them. You have to make a long-term commitment to your marketing. Plan to keep the program going over a long period, and repeat the message often. Understand that you may have to build credibility first, and that takes time. Expect to make several contacts before many community organizations will get on board.
The African American church:
Another critical focus for your marketing efforts will begin in local churches. Community leadership, the political base, and community direction are usually initiated at churches. Denominational associations and local ministerial alliances will prove to be your best sources for marketing the Scouting program. Arrangements should be made to meet with leaders of these organizations and discuss opportunities for addressing their organizations at meetings. Many churches are eager to develop Scouting programs as part of their outreach ministry. In addition, pastors in churches are powerful leaders. Congregations look to them for more than just spiritual guidance. Forming a strategic alliance with influential pastors in your targeted community is a vital step in any marketing effort. Smaller or storefront churches may be particularly receptive to the Scouting program because they are eager to participate in outreach programs that will give them increased visibility in the communityy. In each congregation, the pastor will be able to connect you with a few key people who can be depended on to organize a Scouting program in the church.
Many African American churches have begun to emphasize various rite of passage programs. The concept of officially moving from childhood to manhood has deep roots in African culture. The value of these kinds of ceremonies and the positive impact they can have on individuals and the community has largely been lost in modern Western culture. This rite of passage element is at the heart of the Boy Scouts of America. Few people realize that Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the British general who originated the Scouting idea, admired and adapted Zulu ideas about training young boys and men. In the summer of 1907, he tried out his ideas when he took 21 boys camping on Brownsea Island, thus beginning the Scouting movement. Many leaders in your target community would be pleased to know more about the positive influence that African culture has had on Scouting.
African Americans rely on radio, television, newspapers, and other publications that target their community. To get the news, they don't go to mainstream papers. Remember, African Americans respond to African American advertising images and relate to ads that use African American models. They also tend to trust African American media more than traditional information outlets. Your best methods for marketing will be via radio, magazine, television, cable, and newspaper in that order. You should use community and neighborhood media outlets as much as possible. In developing a marketing plan, remember to use the resources of the local council staff and volunteers. Likewise, the national Membership Recruitment Team is available for support.
Recruiting African American volunteers:
One of the biggest challenges a district executive faces is recruiting African American parents to serve as support for the chartered organization head. Generally, African Americans will volunteer to causes that they believe will benefit their families and community. Asking parents to lend their support to their son's program is an effective way to recruit new leaders. Other excellent sources for recruiting leaders are personal contacts; mentoring programs within organizations such as the military, police, and fire departments; and other African American community resources, including organizations that meet on a regular basis. It could be the NAACP, the Urban League, 100 Black Men, or African American fraternities and sororities. Another good resource is Black Enterprise magazine. This national publication highlights success stories of prominent African American men and women in business and government, and annually lists the top African American companies in America, including the company's gross sales and the chief executive officer's name. You can also identify leaders using resources provided by city hall, the Telephone Company, school districts, African American television and radio stations, retailers, unions, and African American civic organizations.
Changing the perception of Scouting:
Professionals working in African American communities are constantly confronted with the question of the relevance of the Boy Scouts program. Scouting can address many issues that are important to citizens, parents, and community leaders, because it has the ability to give African Americans a sense of achievement, direction, unity, and identity. Other things to consider include rites of passage, the seven principles of Kwanzaa, mentoring, and positive male role models. If there is going to be significant change in attracting African American youth and adults to Scouting, we must institute a new approach and make an assertive effort to change the mindset that Scouting is a white, middle-class organization. Tailoring your marketing efforts to incorporate these issues will enhance their effectiveness.
Another part of the image-building process can begin with a Scout uniform. The dominant colors used by the Boy Scouts are blue, red, black, and green. However, in some areas these colors are also used by gangs, and confrontations have occurred because of gang rivalry. Some Scouts have been attacked for wearing the wrong colors. The solution to this problem may be as simple as a kente cloth neckerchief. Kente cloth is highly respected because it represents a deeply-rooted expression of African culture and heritage. Kente, the cloth of Asante kings, originated in Ghana, West Africa. Traditionally, when someone does something good for the community, they are presented with a garment made of kente cloth. Wearing the garment denotes that the wearer is someone special. Even gangs respect the kente cloth and appreciate its significance.
Troop 11, B.E.S.T. Academy, Atlanta Area Council, Atlanta, Georgia
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