By Anna Marie Chavez – CEO, Girl Scouts USA
On Saturday, August 24, tens of thousands of Americans gathered on the National Mall in Washington D.C. They came together to mark the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic March on Washington, and his “I have a dream” speech. In it, Dr. King shared his vision of a nation where we are judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.
With these inspired words, MLK called on our nation to confront the blight of racism and to unite behind a common banner of mutual respect, understanding and empathy for our fellow citizens. Half a century later, his dream still encourages us to approach one another with compassion, treat each other with dignity, celebrate what unites us and create a more equal and just society.
As the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, I am proud to lead an organization that Dr. King once called a “force for desegregation.” The Girl Scout Movement was conceived as “something for the girls of America and all the world” by our founder, Juliette Gordon Low. Decades ahead of her time, she imagined an organization dedicated to welcoming, empowering and encouraging all girls, regardless of race, color, national origin or creed.
The Girl Scouts is a place where all girls can come together; where they are judged by their willingness to learn, their commitment to their community and their dedication to service. For over a century, our Movement has been proudly inclusive of girls from across the country and around the world, leading the way in encouraging diversity in America.
Recently, I participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by TIME Inc. on the subject of diversity as part of their special edition celebrating the anniversary of the March on Washington. The discussion, a teaser for which you can view here, focused on how Girl Scouting has helped generations of girls learn about and celebrate diversity.
As the first Latina CEO of GSUSA, I know first-hand what Girl Scouting can do for a young girl who happens to be an ethnic minority. Growing up in Eloy, Arizona, I was very proud of my Mexican heritage, but also very aware that most Americans did not share that heritage.
Girl Scouting opened up the world for me. In my troop, I met girls of all ethnic backgrounds. I learned that together, we were stronger than we were apart, that there was far more that united us than divided us, and that through Girl Scouting, we could all work towards the same goals — learning and having fun as one, and forging lifelong friendships.
This interaction with different people and different cultures is what Dr. King meant when he called Girl Scouting a force for desegregation. Like so many young girls through the years, Girl Scouting taught me that diversity was a gift. I learned that I could celebrate my heritage and hold on to what made me unique, even as I met new people and learned about new cultures. United by the Girl Scouts, we learned to respect one another, appreciate our unique qualities and leverage our shared ability to make a difference in our communities and our world.
We have come a long way since Dr. King’s dream inspired our nation to root out racism a half a century ago. Now, as then, we still have a lot of work to do for that dream to become a reality — but we are making progress. The Girl Scouts of the USA will continue to serve as a force for equality and diversity, as we develop strong female leaders who will make our world a better, more united and more inclusive place.