Our Council of Distinction pauses this February to recognize and uplift Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans, and a time to recognize their central role in U.S. history. This February tradition stretches back to September 1915 when Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. Growing up studying history in school, I focused on researching two conflicts in our nation’s history, the Civil War and World War II. For the Civil War, I always was in awe of the courage of Harriet Tubman, an American hero who escaped from slavery in the South to become a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War and helped dozens and dozens of enslaved people find freedom via the Underground Railroad. Now that I am in Girl Scouts and I work diligently to uplift Girls and women, the story of Harriet Tubman gives me even more purpose. She passed away in 1913 on my birthday. A second group of heroes to me being in the Air Force was, of course, the Tuskegee Airmen, who overcame so much discrimination to be one of the premier bomber escort units in World War II. Their courage saved so many lives, and they went on to be a symbol of flying high despite all the doubters long after the war. Their famous Red Tails airplanes went on to be so much more than a symbol of achievement in the face of adversity. We lost the last Tuskegee Airmen in Nebraska last year, 70 years after he took flight to defend a nation. Speaking of flying, I watched with great interest the heroic story of Jesse Brown, who was the first African American Naval Aviator in the Korean War. His incredible tale of bravery I had not known, so I am happy Hollywood told his story to better honor the veteran of the Korean War, called the Forgotten War. It is good for many to reflect on his incredible sacrifice detailed so well in the movie. It was sobering to hear him tell his tale of learning to fly a Navy aircraft because he had to learn how to land the airplane all by himself because when landing on the carrier, he could not trust the landing signal officer on the ship to give him good landing clues (fearing he may have been prejudiced). How tragic to think of that pressure on Jessie to always land by his own instincts and a testament to the aviators of yesteryear like Jessie who still wanted to defend their country. This month we reflect on where we are as a country and where we need to go.
In March, Girl Scouts will honor eight Women of Distinction for our 111th birthday. We also will remember Sandy William, a local activist here in Spokane who brought discrimination to light in so many ways and battled tirelessly to end it by founding a youth community center and being the editor of The Black Lens that shined a light of transparency on our community. She died suddenly in a plane crash last year, and we will honor her lifelong calling to uplift African Americans and others facing discrimination in our community. Sandy Williams will always be a name of good in our community, generations from now.
That fact got me thinking of the power of a name. We all have different names, and those names represent so much. I hope my name represents service before self and now, at this point in my life, a desire to honor Girls and women of courage. We, as a council, selected these eight deserving Women of Distinction for their efforts to be an inspiration to our Girl Scouts. I had the honor to call each of them in their communities spread around our Council. It is fun to call someone and tell them they are getting an award, but it is a little harder to ask for them to drive to Spokane for the award ceremony in March. This year was the easiest one yet. All eight said—“yep, tell me where to be and when!” it was exhilarating, absolutely exhilarating I started thinking, these women did not know me. They didn’t know me at all. I could have been playing a prank on them for all they know because scamming someone seems to sadly be in vogue these days. In the end, I realized it wasn’t me, tho. It was the name of Girl Scouts that propelled them forth to say “Yes!” To be honored by 111 years of iconic history is what propelled them to say “Yes!” That history is more than Juliette Gordon Low, although her DNA is in it. It is ALL the Girl Scouts and volunteers who wore the uniform that is rolled into that name. I implore my staff to think of that as they do their work—they represent much more than themselves. They represent a legendary history that carries our nation forward on the shoulders of their leadership. We must never sully that name, another reason I am so happy that our Girl scouts proudly wear their uniforms. They know the movement matters. The Girl Scout name really matters.
In 2017, there was a movie called Molly’s Game. It detailed a heroine who got steered into running a gambling operation in Hollywood and New York. While legal, her customers touched the bad side of the law, and she got caught up in it. Charged with crimes she did not commit, she stuck to her guns and would not plea bargain her guilt to get a lighter sentence. In the end, the judge was so moved by her nobility and standing up to the prosecutor’s bullying that he gave her community service for some minor infractions that occurred on her watch dealing with shady characters. In a pivotal final scene where the defense attorney is pleading with Molly to take the “deal” to avoid going to prison, Molly suddenly blurts out, “No!” When asked why by the exasperated attorney—she calmly says: Because I am protecting my good name. “Because it’s all I have left! Because it’s my name... and I’ll never have another.”
It is a powerful moment. Girl Scouts is our name. It is a proud name. And we as a Council will work tirelessly to protect it and give it to as many new Girls who will wear it proudly on their uniform.
This month we honor the thousands and millions of African American names that came before, like Sandy Williams, and those here today, like Spokane’s Kiantha Duncan, Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, and our 2023 Women of Distinction honoree Avonte Jackson of Kennewick. Names matter, and the Girl Scout name makes the world a better place— it always will.