Several years ago, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. formed
a national mentoring partnership with Boy Scouts 0f America and our chapter sponsored Boy
Scout Troop 678. Recently, while discussing with a Brother the potential for reactivating
the Boy Scout Troop or other scouting related chapter involvement, I commented on the
importance of an Afrocentric focus to any effort that we might undertake. The Brother
reacted sharply that such a focus would be inappropriate and that a Scout Troop sponsored
by us "should be open to everyone." The response was not unexpected.
First, to have an Afrocentric focus is not exclusionary. The Afrocentric worldview is grounded in the historical experience of African people. Unlike the Eurocentric focus, it values all human cultures and does not claim supremacy over others. Dr. Molfi Kete Asante of Temple University wrote in his seminal work Afrocentricity, "Regardless of our various complexions and degrees of consciousness we are by virtue of commitments, history and convictions an African people. Afrocentricity, therefore, is only superficially related to color, it is more accurately a philosophical outlook determined by history." Many of us still don't understand that whi1e our nationality is American, because of commitments, history and convictions our ethnic culture is African. There is no conflict between the two and it will be the acceptance of our Africanness by a critical mass of African Americans that will eventually liberate and transform America for the benefit of all Americans - with revolutionary world wide impact.
For those Brothers new to Kappa Phi Lambda Chapter, you should know that while our Troop 678 incorporated a strong focus on African and African American culture and history within the general framework of the scouting program, we had young men participating of all ethnicities. In fact, a European American Scout in the troop made Eagle Scout and the Senior Patrol Leader was an Asian American. Within - and because of - the context of an Afrocentric focus, we celebrated all of humanity's contribution.
In The Washington Post of September 28th a headline stated, "Taking Steps to Pass On Black History: District Boy Scout Troop Helps Develop African American Discovery Trail." The story reported that Troop 98 researched over 70 sites in the District of Columbia that were significant to African American history and established a 17 mile trail divided into four sections. The story concluded with a quote from Cub Scout Lloyd Brown, "I saw St. Mary's Church, one of the oldest Black churches. And I learned about slaves. This helped me get smarter." One of the ongoing tragedies is that without an Afrocentric focus, about all young Black boys - and some old Black men - know is about African people as slaves. That really doesn't help you get smarter.
The Boy Scout Handbook states that the founder of the Scouting movement, Robert Baden-Powell, spent much of his life serving in the British cavalry. He received his early military training in India, then served in Africa. In the early 1900s he was an officer in the war between Britain and the Dutch settlers, the Boers, in South Africa. He gained fame by defending the town of Mafeking against a force of Boer soldiers for 217 days until another British army group broke through the lines and lifted the siege. Baden-Powell went home to England and decided to use his fame to help British boys become better men. The Scout Handbook states only that, "Hebased his ideas for a boys' organization on his own experiences as a youngster in England and as a soldier in India and Africa."
Let's look deeper into the influences on Robert Baden-Powell from an Afrocentric perspective. You may recall that last fall I wrote an essay comparing the strong stand taken by Representative Maxine Waters when she challenged her colleagues in the Congress of the United States to investigate the introduction of crack cocaine to South-Central Los Angeles in the early 1980s to the strong stand taken in 1900 by Nana Yaa Asantewaa, the Asante queenmother of Edweso, who demanded the return of Nana Kwasi Agyeman Prempeh I the Asantehene (the king) from British exile. When Hodgson, the British Governor General of The Gold Coast, replied that the Asantehene would not be returned, Nana Yaa Asantewaa then declared war on the British Empire by stating to Hodgson, "Tomorrow, ghost widows will get husbands! "
The Asante nation in West Africa by 1831 was about as large as modern day Ghana. Throughout the 1800s, Asante had fought a number of wars against colonial encroachments as the British attempted to expand inland from their foothold on the coast toward the Asante nation. The Asante army defeated the British army in 1806, 1822 and 1863 because of the Asante superior military strategy despite the British weaponry. (Did you learn about this in school?) However by 1888, when Nana Prempeh Iwas enstooled as Asantehene, there was internal disorder in the Asante nation and increased military and diplomatic pressure by the British and their allies. In 1896 Maxwell, the British Governor General and a military detachment arrived in Kumasi, the Asante capitol, for a meeting with the Asantehene and his elders. When Nana Prempeh I and the elders came to the meeting, which they understood was to be for the purpose of negotiating differences, they were instead surrounded by the British military force , taken prisoner and eventual1y banished to the Seychelles Islands in the British belief that this would break the spirit of the Asante people. It did not work.
The British force that in 1896 took prisoner Nana Prempeh I was under the command of then Major Robert Baden-Powell. The book Ashantis of Ghana: People With A Soul by J. W. Tufuo and C. E. Donkor states that, "... the Boy Scout Movement was in principle modeled on the methods of Ashanti pathfinders and spies. ... The Scout sign of greeting is an Ashanti sign, less one finger, for good news." Robert B. Edgerton of the University of California, Los Angeles also writes that Baden-Powell used the Asante military sign as the model for the Boy Scout salute in his book titled The Fall Of The Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War for Africa's Gold Coast. Therefore, it appears that Baden-Powell, who had been in combat against the Asante army prior to becoming a national hero in the war against the Boer army, was so impressed with the Asante military that years later it influenced his creation of the Boy Scouts.
I am reminded of the following statement from Dr. Asante's book Afrocentricity
"Enslavement of the mind is the most pernicious kind of enslavement because the person so enslaved will never be able to see clearly for himself. Breaking the mental chains only occurs when a person learns to take two sets of notes on almost everything encountered in the Western world. If they say that Shakespeare is the greatest writer know Cesaire, Du Boise, Hughes, Soyinka, Guillen, Ngugu, Pushkin. If they say that ballet is classical dance, know that it is no more classical than Adowa or a Mfundalai Shairi Dansi. If they say Bach is universal, know that Bach cannot be anymore universal than John Coltrane or Duke Ellington. After one has established a sound basis for knowledge, other truths will find their way. In this manner the frames of reference change and become liberatory for us, expanding our horizons to ourselves. "
The above account illustrates that you need to consider a second set of notes - even when reading The Boy Scout Handbook - lest a narrow and parochial Eurocentric perspective limit your view as to the range of African peoples contributions to human development.