How Scouting is changing in the Durham community

Cub Scout Pack 424 enjoys a day at the Eno River State Park. They meet regularly at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Durham. (Photo courtesy of Desmond Miller)


The Boy Scouts of America is known for being an organization founded on tradition and a strong sense of patriotism. But in the face of a changing cultural and political climate, the organization is doing its best to reach out to new members without changing its core values.

They have had a strong presence in Durham, which is in the BSA Mawat District, for decades. Marketing and Activities Director Desmond Miller says that the organization is working especially hard to reach potential Boy Scouts in places that were previously hard to serve.

“We’re allowing scouting to grow and definitely trying to get scouting into the inner parts of the cities that we cover and some of the rural areas that we cover,” Miller said.

Desmond Miller presents a recognition to Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity at the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club. (Photo courtesy of Desmond Miller)

As of 2015, only four percent of Boy Scouts graduated to Eagle Scouts, the highest honor a scout can achieve. And of that four percent, only four percent were boys of color, according to scout official Lonce Scott.

Miller got involved with BSA while living in Charlotte and became passionate about getting boys of color involved with the scouts.

“I started working with [a BSA] organization in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was volunteering with a learn to swim program that I started. One of the professional scouters in Charlotte, I started volunteering for him,” Miller recounted. “He wanted to make sure that some some of our African American boys to learn how to swim. So, being a swim instructor and having a background in swimming, it was a passion of mine. So, I jumped at the opportunity to teach these young people how to swim.”

Though many of the Boy Scouts come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, Miller assured that he makes sure every scout has the same meaningful experience.

“It’s a universal experience for everyone,” Miller said. “We just want to make sure that every young person has an opportunity to live a moral, ethical life. That they’re making good decisions and good choices.”

One aspect of this experience, is the merit badge system. Miller confirmed that there are over 140 different merit badges that Boy Scouts receive for completing introductory level activities for different skills, including life-saving, woodworking, communication, and citizenship on a local and national level.

The Mawat Dristrict has even started giving out badges for achievements in STEM fields. The scouts are taught different skills through curriculum courses with their troops and then apply what they’ve learned in the community through volunteer work.

“We do a lot of community clean-ups and community food drives. The sky is the limit. We even help with disaster relief,” Miller said with a smile. “Scouting has been around since 1910. If you think about all the different tragedies that this country has gone through, scouting has been a part of food drives, clothes drives [that helped the nation]. During World War 1, scouts would pick up different metals to make sure that if our military needed something to be made, they could have supplies to do so. Anything that the country needs and the scouts can be a part of, we’re a part of.”

One of the challenges that inner city parents face when enrolling their children in Boy Scouts is the cost. But Miller says that families can register for only $24 a year and that payment plans can be made to fit anyone’s situation.

“If any families that may have financial hardships they can contact our local scouting office. That’s why we do fundraisers, that’s why we sell popcorn, that’s why we sell camp cards, that’s why we write grants.”

Miller believes that the sacrifices that some families make are worth the results that they’ll get.

“For me, scouting means a lifelong opportunity to grow, as an individual, as a community leader, as a friend. Even just being mentor to someone’s child allows me to grow every day. I’m learning something new every single day.  I’m connecting with new people and meeting people every single day. I’m having opportunities to grow socially, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m growing physically, in terms of being aware of my environment and how to take care of my environment.”

Miller says that if there’s one thing people should know about the scouts, it’s that they are always looking for help.

“We’re building and recruiting our membership and always getting more young people involved in scouting. If you have a passion for working with young people, we need you. If you have a passion for raising money and helping a nonprofits organization grow. If you a passion for making the community better. We’re always looking for people like that.”

You can connect with Miller and other Durham Boy Scout officials at the official Mawat District website