It’s another record of firsts. Last week, Girl Scouts of the USA named their new CEO, and it’s the first Black CEO to take the position in the organization’s 108 year history. Former ExxonMobil lawyer Judith Batty is now the interim CEO of the largest leadership organization for girls in the world. This is a significant milestone for the Girl Scouts, whose history included racially segregated troops in its early years.
A lifelong Girl Scout, Batty started as a Brownie with her local Nassau County Council in New York. She continued scouting before going on to serve two terms on the National Board of the Council. Batty has close to thirty years of law experience, working as a Senior Legal Counsel and an Executive for a Fortune 100 corporation. There she was the first woman and first Black general counsel to oversea affiliates.
Although the Girl Scouts were founded as a movement for all girls in 1912 by Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low, girls of color, particularly African-American girls were excluded. Segregation was widespread in the United States following Jim Crow laws and the “separate but equal” legal doctrine. Low left it up to local communities to decide if it would be acceptable to register troops that included African-American scouts. Although she feared that White girls in the South would resign if Black girls were able to join, she believed that in the end they would be obligated to admit them. Low feared the negative effect integrated troops would have on membership.
Despite pervasive segregation, the first African-American girl members were a part of the third US troop in 1913 in Massachusetts. The first officially recognized all African-American Girl Scout troop followed a few years later in 1917. However, troops in the South remained segregated by race for decades, with the first officially registered all African-American Girl Scout troop forming in 1942 in Tennessee. The desegregation of the Girl Scouts began in the 1950s in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. Since then, women like Condoleezza Rice, Mae Jemison, Venus and Serena Williams, and Mariah Carey have joined the ranks of noteworthy Black women alumnae.
While Batty recognizes the progress made by the Girl Scouts she is quoted as saying, “I am committed to engaging the Movement in difficult discussions about race in an effort to make the Girl Scouts an actively anti-racist organization.” Batty’s step into this position of leadership is no small feat. In a world where Black people, and more specifically Black women and girls, have been historically deemed less than, her accomplishment is one of great magnitude. Black representation in positions of leadership is vital, not only to combatting racism, but to empower the next generation of leaders. Shattering ceilings paves the way for the next young Black girl to pursue her most ambitious dreams. The question never lies in if the Black woman can do it, rather it is will the opportunities be made available to her?
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