There is a scene in the Muppet Movie (the new one) in which the Muppets transform an abandoned Hollywood theater to the soundtrack of Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City [On Rock & Roll]”. I actually have a memory of building Arts County Fair 11 to the same song playing over the T-Bird stadium speakers. Whether this is a real memory or my brain creating a montage, I can’t say – but there are many parallels between the Muppets and the Arts Undergrad Society and it would certainly have been apt.
The same montage came to mind when I was walking around camp this weekend at Fahnestock. We had three troops out: the 5th (the O.G.s of alternative scouting in Brooklyn), the 67th (my new troop that I started last spring) and the 89th (a troop that started with minimal assistance from the 5th). We even had a couple of our friends from the 91st in Kingston stop by. It was the Empire State Hullabaloo – and it was a small city. We had close to two hundred people, youth Scouts, Rovers and parents, all camping despite the rain, all happy to be there. We built this city more on Google Docs and Slack than on rock’n’roll, but we built it.
It hasn’t always been an easy road. The difference between the Brooklyn Scouts and Guides Canada is that, in the latter, I had an infrastructure. I had best practices. I had meeting plans. I had a national organization handling registration, payment, uniforms, insurance, waivers and background checks. In B-PSA, I have a program, but it doesn’t come with any of that. I have to figure out how to register my people and collect their dues. My fellow leaders had to figure out how to get an insurance policy. I found the background check partner we work with. I have things to do every single day that would have been either handled or guided by Girl Guides if I was still with that organization. It’s exhausting, especially at scale.
It’s still been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life though. I see my son, who understands the timeless moral framework of the Scout laws. I see the Otters gathered around and singing at meetings. I see the Timberwolves learning how to treat a broken arm in a sling at camp. I see the Pathfinders hiking a mountain. I see these Scouts I’ve worked with for years, all growing and developing, learning and becoming their own people with the influence of this century-old “game”, and each of them being better for it. And I see myself, committed to something solid and real, building a community, giving back to an organization I got so much out of: it’s made me a better parent and friend, a better manager, a better person to return to an organization so similar to the one I participated in for a decade in Canada.
This weekend, so many of the families camping have become our friends that for me, it’s a social event as much as it is work. It’s my village and my community. We have all made so many friends and met so many wonderful people through 5th Brooklyn Scouts that we haven’t felt like transplants since we joined.
I’m one of the prime movers of this organization. I drive hard, and I push hard, and I work to move it forward, to grow our group, to bring new Scouts in as I did building out the 67th Wallabout Bay group, and making sure we have everything in place for all our Scouts to participate. I’m there, behind the scenes sometimes, other times in front of the Scouts. I have done service to grow this group, more than I think at times I have to give. There’s a lot of days when I’d rather be in a spin class than at a meeting or at a Depeche Mode club night instead of at a camp – but I am there anyways, doing my best (as our Timberwolves say).
I entirely wasn’t sure why I did it until this weekend, when one of the other parents came up to me and told me my parents were at camp, that my mother and father were there. Wrong Gillian, of course, but it made me a little sad thinking, what if my parents were there? What would they have thought of the temporary villages we put up, of Otterland and Timberwolf Village, of the camp with all those Scouts, that I helped so much to build?
That’s when I realized, my parents helped me become the person who would do this. My mother would see this as a new version of her Lasqueti Island commune. My father would be astounded that Lord Robert Baden-Powell’s teachings were still being read in the twenty-first century, and in Brooklyn of all places. Between my American mother and her years on a BC commune and my British father and his childhood in Scouting, lies a Scout camp with 109 youth Scouts and their families in 2017.
My family history is one of the narratives that forms my vision for the Brooklyn Scout movement. That in turn makes me grateful that these are the values I got from my parents. For better or worse, this is the person I am, the leader I am, and I am thankful that the motivation to contribute to this new Scouting movement and community is intrinsic to me. There are many things flawed with my childhood, yet I got so much from my parents that I keep discovering new aspects of their teachings, even into my adulthood.
We built this city on rock’n’roll, and we built this camp on the belief that we could create this movement and bring this Game to Brooklyn. Walking through camp this weekend, I was unbelievably proud to have been able to contribute so much to it over the past four years, and to have had a hand in working with so many people to build it. I think my father would have been amazed to see it, and I know my mother is reading this and thinking, at least I didn’t have to bake bread for seventy people in the process on a daily basis.