In 2010, my son Dexter and I watched the Pixar movie UP, about a Boy Scout that went on an amazing adventure. Dexter, a seasoned burner, then asked me, “Why aren’t there Scouts at Burning Man?” My response was, “I don’t know, but there should be. Why don’t we start a Scout program?” So Dexter and I founded Black Rock Scouts.
Dexter has been a burner from the age of 16-months, so he grew up on the playa. Dexter’s first year was only my second burn. My husband had been a burner since the first burns in San Francisco, but I was still learning.
When we decided to bring a baby to the playa in 2002, there not that many families there. Kidsville was established, but we didn’t know much about it. We had been invited to camp at Earth Guardians on Esplanade and 5:30, by our dear friend Loki. It was the perfect space for our first year with a baby-burner.
I read everything I could about caring for a kid on the playa, which was limited at the time. Since Dexter was already walking, I knew keeping him in the shade would be a challenge, so we created an enclosure with 10×10 shade pop-up and created a border with plastic garden fencing. Dexter never even tried to escape. It worked perfectly. At dusk, we allowed Dexter some supervised free-range time out on the playa, sometimes wearing nothing but shoes and a hat. Babies really love being naked.
That year, I gifted Mehndi Body Art to passers by in front of our camp. Unsurprisingly, Dexter was a great attraction. He received so much love and attention, that I knew we had done the right thing by bringing him.
The next year I hosted, Mehndi Body Oasis in Center Camp, with about ten virgins including my sister, her husband and two young boys. That was a hard year. We did henna for 8 hours a day, for 6 days straight. I never even got out onto the playa that year. The following year I hosted a non-interactive camp in the burbs, next to a Penis art car. All our boys loved it, since they have penises.
Burner Family Project: Hot Monkey Sox
In 2006, I hosted a family-friendly interactive camp on Esplanade at 6:30 called Hot Monkey Sox. It was a sock monkey workshop where families could come sit in the shade and make a sock monkey. We had a hit. People would come and stay all day, creating something of their own and spending quality time with each other.
The following year, we were invited to camp in Kidsville, where we met two other families who joined our camp the following year. Hot Monkey Sox was a staple in Kidsville. We grew to a 20×20 shade structure and had a full house of kids and adults, interacting with each other everyday.
Anti-kid Vibe on Playa
In 2007, we had a bad experience. After a long day of hosting Hot Monkey Sox, we were invited to ride on the Dogfish art car, who’s maker we met the year prior. When we hopped on, coincidentally, my sister and her two boys were already on board. It had been a long day, so Dexter and his cousin Nolan fell asleep in our arms. Other passengers were smitten with the sleeping baby-burners, but not the bartender. He was saying things like, “I’d never bring my grandkids out here.” He was trying to flirt with female burners on board, half his age, who were more interested in Dexter. My baby was cramping his style.
We were headed in the direction of Center Camp (close to our camp) and decided we’d hop off as we got closer. Dogfish pulled up the portos at the 9:00 near the Man and most everyone got off, including my husband and the driver who had invited us. As soon as they were out of sight, the bartender pointed to my sister and I and said, “You. You’re out of here. This is a bar not a school bus.”
In shock, I simply stepped off with my sleeping child in my arms. When my husband returned, he found us standing with the kids as the Dogfish rolled away.
As we marched home with the kids, I was furious and in tears. That night I couldn’t sleep. I was so upset that I wanted to go home. The next morning, I wasn’t crying, I was mad. I decided that this was our burn too, that we should fight for our right to be there. From that point on, I became an advocate for Burner families.
Playa Kid Love
The years camping in Kidsville were great, nothing but love for burner kids. In fact, the kids were treated like “small gods”, to quote Dexter. They were handed gifts and candy for simply being kids. This bothered me. We were teaching our kids that life would simply hand them gifts, for no reason. I didn’t want my son to simply skip through Burning Man, I wanted to him to participate and contribute.
Why Black Rock Scouts?
When Dexter originally brought up the idea of Scouts at Burning Man, something clicked in my head. This was the opportunity I was looking for, a way for kids to really learn about how the community works, and to give back. The idea was simple. I’d ask departments to host volunteer opportunities for the kids, in exchange for a merit patch or button. Sounds simple enough, right?
With the burn only four months out, I quickly laid out the program plan. Dexter designed the logo himself and I ordered patches and bandannas. I started cold-calling and sending out emails to different departments, soliciting them to host Black Rock Scout events. I posted a call for participation on ePlaya. For weeks, I had no response.
Then about a month out, I started getting replies. The Black Rock Rangers, a huge organization, got back to me. They offered to host a Ranger training and our first event was planned. As the burn got closer, other departments like Greeters, Lamplighters and even Gate offered up special scout events with their departments. I even got an unsolicited offer from Pink Heart camp and Dragon Smelter to host events.
BRS is Launched
In 2010, with the help of a few other parents, I hosted 12 Black Rock Scout events while my camp mates ran Hot Monkey Sox. It was exhausting, but oh-so-worth the effort.
The first event, hosted by Rangers, was all about playa safety. We hiked from Kidsville to the Ranger Station where we staged a lost teddy bear scenerio. The kids got to see first-hand, what happens when a kid goes missing. The Gate was closed for about 10-minutes as Rangers searched for the lost bear. When the bear was found, we celebrated with ice cream at the Ranger Station. The point was to give the kids some responsibility for their own safety.
The ESD, Emergency Services Department, also hosted an awesome event at two of the fire stations where Scouts learned about fire safety, the Med center and got to meet the volunteers that run ESD. Our first year of BRS was a success.
The following year, I attended the burn alone for the first time. My marriage had ended and Dexter needed a break from Burning Man. That year I hosted 16 BRS events in 4 days, mostly by myself. I had also re-joined Earth Guardians, who fully supported my time away from camp to host BRS events. I won’t lie, it was difficult and I knew I couldn’t sustain BRS alone.
A New Era for BRS
The next year, 2012, I became a full-time Earth Guardian and joined Gate/Perimeter (five days of shifts). I knew I couldn’t do it all, so I asked Kidsville parents to take over Black Rock Scouts.
Then came Jay Marlette (insert angelic choir singing). He was bringing his daughter Lucy to the playa and wanted to get involved. He bravely took on the challenge of running BRS, and took it to the next level. He met with the BMORG, got training on how to recruit parent volunteers, he even set up a BRS tee-shirt silk screening workshop in his basement. Jay scheduled more events than prior years, he had departments and camps cold-calling him!
That was also the year that the Pershing County Sheriff’s office was trying to ban kids from Burning Man. The BMORG asked us to help publicize the many programs for kids, not just BRS. I was asked to write a series of blogs for and about burner families, the services offered and some how-to’s. One of our events that year was ID tag making. Parents can also register their kids with Rangers and Kidsville residents are tagged with wrist bands.
I want to add as special thank you to Caroline, Mathew and Isaac Frierman, who jumped in to help Hot Monkey Sox and BRS from the start. They have worked endlessly to keep the BRS torch lit ever since. Thank you for believing in the program!
Family Friendly Environment
Since then, the playa seems to be much more kid friendly thanks to the org’s support of kids, and all the burners and parents who advocate for families.
Kids are a natural part of Burning Man. Here is a simple equation: Playa boy meets playa girl. Playa couple has baby. Playa family continues to contribute and participate to BRC. There are so many people who work on playa for a month or more, who bring their kids, including Andrew Johnstone who designed The Man this year. These are the folks who build your city, light it, Ranger it and keep it safe.
Ban on Kids
There will always be people who think kids don’t belong at Burning Man, and I do engage them, to find out why. The answer is almost always the same. “I don’t want kids to see me doing inappropriate things, and I shouldn’t have to alter my behavior,” and I agree.
What I want people to know, is that Burner parents don’t expect anyone to alter or curb their behavior. It is the responsibility of the parent, not the org or the BRC community, to determine what is appropriate for their children to see. If we see something we don’t want our kids to see, we can simply walk the other way. Kids are smart and want to know the truth, so it’s a great opportunity to talk about touchy subjects like sexual behavior, drinking, drugs and partying too much.
To those who don’t want to encounter kids on playa, I suggest avoiding Kidsville. If and when you do see a kid, simply walk the other way, the same thing I do when I see a shirt-cocker. It’s that easy.
This year, Exodus was delayed by nearly 4 hours due to an Amber Alert. It caused some people to be stuck on Gate road for 10 hours, which can be the case even without an Amber Alert. People were furious that this was caused by a kid, well… a 17-year old girl who missed her curfew. The girl was found safe, with her boyfriend. It seems her parents had no idea the chaos it would cause.
I agree that the Amber Alert, which is for abducted children, was overkill in this situation. Again, it’s the responsibility of the parent to keep their kid safe. This is why, kids raised at Burning Man are much better equipped to stay safe, as opposed to teenagers coming for the first time. I spoke to several Rangers about the Amber Alert, all of who are asking the Org to rethink the response, based the individual situation. The discussion is happening so I expect to see some policy changes for 2017.
Burners of the Future
Let’s be honest, we can’t live forever and can’t burn forever… so who will take over? Who will build BRC, Ranger it, build the Man, run DMV, put up all those traffic cones on Gate road? I doubt Plug & Play camps, Sparkle Ponies or weekend partiers will do it.
Programs like Black Rock Scouts are raising responsible burners who contribute, from the ground up. Some BRS graduates have gone on to work at DMV, Gate/Perimeter, BMIR radio and other departments, camps and projects.
I’m proud to say, my nephew, known as Nacho on the playa, who was kicked off an art car for being a kid… is now working logistics for Gate/Perimeter at the age of 21. In fact, this year my sister Clarity and her husband Rice who both work Gate/Perimeter, took the year off and Nacho went it alone. He’s been on playa since August 4th, working his ass off, with major respect and admiration from his department. That is why kids belong at Burning Man.
Life After Black Rock Scouts
Last year, Dexter, my partner Eli and I crewed on the Neverwas Haul art car. It was amazing. This year, we took this year off so I could host a Fundraiser Pop-up Shop for Friends of Black Rock in Gerlach. After 11 burns for Dexter and 14 burns for me, we were both happy for the break.
I’m not sure what our plans are for next year, but now that Dexter is a teenager, I’m leaving it up to him to decide to come back or not. I will say, the only downside of raising a kid at Burning Man, is they become jaded. Dexter has said things like, “Last year was better” and “Ugh, fire spinners again?”
Regardless of our future involvement with BRS, we are just happy that our little project has grown into the respected program it is today. I hope it will endure for future generations.
3 Replies to “Founding Black Rock Scouts”
Great pictures of you and Decter and Jonathon, love the logo and patch.
Very nice and informative article, well expressed Judi. I have nevewr participated and most likely never will, but….Burn on folks and enjoy!
Thanks for writing this. I’m a 15 year burner and my wife has been four years. In 2015, we brought our 7 yr old daughter for the first time (during build week too) and stayed in Kidsville for event. We also encountered a few similar experiences with concerns about behaviour altering due to kids. And my response was the same (with a big smile), “hey, you keep having your fun, we’re prepared to talk to our kid on more levels than you know!”. But mostly, the experiences were positive. We also participated in about six Black Rock Scout adventures. Very thankful for those experiences. Thank you!