Michelle Holmes and Derrick Jackson
How one couple with kids and careers finds time to give back to their Scouts.
Husband-and-wife team Michelle Holmes and Derrick Jackson might seem like unlikely Scouters: She’s a professor and researcher at Harvard Medical School, and he’s a syndicated columnist for The Boston Globe. Despite their busy professional lives, though, they’ve been active in Scouting since their younger son, Tano Holmes, joined Cub Scouting more than a decade ago.
Today, Jackson is an assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 56 in Cambridge, Mass., while Holmes works as committee chair for both Troop 56 and Crew 56. The couple have taken young people on three Philmont treks and one trip to the Kandersteg International Scout Centre in Switzerland. We caught up with them to talk about their Scouting experiences.
Derrick, you hesitated to take on the role of Scoutmaster. Why is that?
I saw how much time the former Scoutmaster put into making the program happen. I was concerned it would cause an erosion of my job. But not only did it not have any deleterious effects on my career, it actually broadened my world in ways I never, ever [would have] imagined. Scouting is a wonderful way to connect with adults who may have different political views, religious views, and racial views. When we start talking about Scouting and what it does for the youth, we’re all on the same page.
Michelle, your troop and crew are diverse in both ethnicity and economics. What’s the biggest challenge in this scenario?
Economic diversity. If the kids with resources don’t raise money, then the kids without resources, who are their friends, don’t raise money.
What was your solution?
We’ve had a lot of soul-searching in our troop and crew committee, and we’ve recently made a rule that kids need to raise at least half of their activity fees. All new things have fits and starts, but it’s working.
Derrick, why not make activities free, even if you have to scale back your program some?
You don’t want the program to be unaffordable, but you can’t give it away. It’s not just about the outdoors. It’s these life lessons that are so critical—probably even more so for families that are more chaotic.
Michelle, how do you challenge the perception that Scouting is a white, middle-class program?
It’s taken our personal example—and not just Derrick’s and mine. Our current Scoutmaster is an African American man with extensive outdoor experience. When a young person sees someone who looks like them doing Scouting, they can’t look us in the face and say, “That’s not for me.”
Derrick, you love sports, but you chose Scouts instead. Why?
Every last participant in Scouting is a winner. In sports, somebody loses.
Michelle, how do you deal with the challenges of taking co-ed crews into the backcountry?
We have a behavior policy they have to sign every year—the usual things that are against Scout rules: cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, sex, all that. They sign it, and it’s not really an issue.
Derrick, you used a teamwork analogy from basketball to help a Venturer get over a meltdown at Philmont. What did you say?
I said, “You can make it, girl; you can do this. But you’ve got to understand that we’re only going to get there as a team. The crew isn’t getting there unless you’re a big role player.” Somehow making that basketball connection, she not only woke up, but she ended up leading us over Mount Phillips. A couple of days later we were in a field cutting some trees. She screamed, “Derrick, take my picture.” She had taken a running start and was leaping toward the camera, hoping I would catch her in mid-air. And, luckily, I did. That moment of joy—that’s what makes it worth it.