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Photograph by Douglas Dailey

Poster Children: Officials from Girl Scouts of Santa Clara County say that Neicsa Page Jackson, pictured here with her troop, was fired for allowing the girls' photos to be used on a website. Jackson believes it was all about 'not being representative' of the Girl Scouts' population.

Patch Politics

How does a Girl Scout troop leader, whose troop was the first to complete an exemplary program in domestic violence and win state recognition, get fired? It's all in who you know.

By Najeeb Hasan

WHEN Neicsa Page Jackson first started Girl Scout Troop 1505 in Eden Palms five years ago, she only had four girls. "And three of them had no choice in the matter," she recalls with a laugh. "They were mine."

The management at Eden Palms, an affordable-housing community for low-income families on Monterey Road in San Jose, had asked her to try to organize something with the children, and so Jackson, wanting to deepen her relationship with her own three girls, began her fledgling troop.

She remembers lugging her crate of training materials on three separate buses to get from Eden Palms to the offices of the Girl Scouts of Santa Clara County on Bascom Avenue. She remembers having to make her own fliers and distributing them door-to-door in the housing complex. She remembers trying to figure out the best time to organize her weekly troop meetings in Eden Palm's community center--she finally settled on Sundays between 7 and 8pm, after dinner and before bedtime. And she remembers the pride she felt as she watched her troop swell from her initial four to more than 20 in the four years that she was troop leader.

Because, that's pretty much all Jackson can do about Troop 1505 now: remember.

Shortly after guiding her troop to become the first in California to complete a new domestic-violence awareness program and earn a Girl Scout patch for it, Jackson was abruptly fired as troop leader by the Girl Scouts of Santa Clara County. And while representatives from the Santa Clara scouts insist the four-year veteran was let go for, among other offenses, allowing pictures of her troop to be posted on a county-promoted domestic-violence website, Jackson, who is black, is convinced the reasons are more political and more disturbing.

"We were the first troop to finish the program, and we were honored for that," says Jackson, whose troop had been part of a special Kaleidoscope program that is meant to encourage low-income girls and girls with other needs to participate in scouting by providing free uniforms and materials as well as other resources.

"Well, after being honored, the emotional abuse started," she says. "They told me several times ]that] my troop and I were not representative of the Girl Scouts."

In published reports, JoAnne Neil, CEO of the Santa Clara Girl Scouts, categorically denied any wrongdoing by the scouts. In a story that appeared on Salon.com on Sept. 19, Neil insisted the Santa Clara scouts were concerned that the pictures Jackson allowed to be posted on the domestic-violence website violated Internet safety rules for a number of reasons: individual shots of the girls were included as well as the first names of the girls and the names of their school.

"We don't get into issues around personnel and troop leaders," Neil says. "What happened with Jackson had nothing to do with the patch program. I don't know what to tell you on that. The program piloted by Jackson was also piloted by three other troops. All of them got recognition."

Jackson is clear about what she believes to be the reason there were some members within the organization who preferred that the troops representing the scouts be primarily white, which was not the case of Jackson's own troop, one of the most racially diverse in the county.

Full Circle

When Jackson first heard of the new patch program for domestic violence two years ago at a Victim's Voice meeting held by the county's Domestic Violence Council, she couldn't wait to get her girls involved.

Jackson, herself a victim of domestic violence, had plenty reason to want her troop to complete the program. A former cheerleader from tiny Huntington, W.V. ("where we didn't buy applesauce, we made it," she says), the self-sufficient Jackson would go on to graduate from Marshall University in three years.

She met her husband, Richard Jackson, in her hometown during the summer and moved with him first to Ohio, then to New York and, finally, to California. "That's what they do; they try and take you away from your family, from your support," she warns. In California, Richard Jackson was convicted for spousal rape and assault and sentenced to six years in state prison. He was released two Septembers ago. Jackson survived, she says, only because one of her children called 911.

After her husband's incarceration, Jackson found herself at Eden Palms, relying on affordable housing and food banks for the first time in her life. And after she began her troop, the domestic-violence patch program seemed to be the perfect fit.

Through contacts at Victim's Voice, she met local website operator and photographer Douglas Dailey, who ran the then-county-sponsored site on domestic violence and related issues.

Dailey's website, a comprehensive guide to resources regarding domestic violence, reflects Dailey's own activist stake in the issue--his sister was killed by an abuser.

He says Jackson's troop was the natural choice for recognition--it had been the first to complete the program and had been involved with the patch program since its inception, after it was introduced by local domestic-violence activist Pam Butler.

Butler had been inspired to introduce the program in California after learning of a similar effort by the Shawnee Girl Scout Council in West Virginia. But although the Santa Clara County scouts were lukewarm toward the idea when Butler first proposed it more than two years ago, Jackson showed interest because of her own background and experience with domestic violence.

Months later, the Santa Clara scouts finally decided to go through with the program and chose to include three more troops along with Jackson's for the pilot program. But Jackson's Kaleidoscope troop was the first to complete the program, which involved surfing Dailey's website (the Santa Clara scouts no longer use Dailey's website for their program), researching local resources for battered women and hosting speakers to learn more about issues in domestic violence.

In early February 2001, Jackson's troop was honored at a Domestic Violence Council meeting in San Jose for being the first to complete the program in January, in front of Judge Len Edwards and various other county dignitaries.

Dailey, with Jackson's approval, posted photographs of the troop on his site to honor them for completing the program. At first, Dailey says, his pictures on the website were well received. The Santa Clara scouts even used some of Dailey's group shots on their own website, while the Girl Scouts office in New York also gave its thumbs up, Dailey claims.

"Debbie Espinosa [the Santa Clara scouts' public relations officer] approached me, and she said she really liked the pictures," says Dailey about the photographs in question. "But then she said there were two other troops finishing the program and [they] wanted their pictures up, too. I told Debbie I would love to do that, but that I had only been given funds by the Domestic Violence Council to do the first troop. I told her if you give me the funds for my film and my time, I would be happy to do that."

Then, Dailey says, things began to get strange. There was an article in the San Jose Mercury News and a radio piece done by the BBC about the Santa Clara scouts and their new domestic-violence patch program, but Jackson and her troop played only a minor role in both. And both Jackson and Dailey contend the Santa Clara scouts began to emphasize the other troops, which hadn't even completed the program.

On June 18, the troop was invited by California Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn to appear in Sacramento, where they went onto the Assembly floor and received a state commendation. But says Dailey, the scouts' communications officer, Debbie Espinosa, interfered. "Debbie Espinosa told us that Jackson couldn't go unless the other troops could go as well," he says.

Once in Sacramento, Dailey says, things got even weirder. "Jackson went to take her girls to the restroom," he says. "As soon as she saw that, Debbie Espinosa hailed the state photographer and literally ran with two troops two blocks and around the corner to be photographed. I asked her about Jackson, and she said Jackson could have her pictures taken later. To me, it was very, very clear Debbie Espinosa wanted the two white troops to get their pictures taken but not Jackson's."

Neil explains Espinosa's actions another way: "What happened was that Rebecca Cohn had asked for a rapid photo shoot. We sent a representative to go find Jackson's troop in the bathroom, and we got them into the picture."

Meanwhile, Dailey says, the Santa Clara scouts were accusing Dailey of stealing their intellectual property by having pictures of Jackson's troop with their sashes and pins on his site. The scouts also claimed that he was also endangering the girls because pedophiles surfed the Internet, even though Dailey had the permission of the girls' parents to post the pictures. The scouts, however, appeared to have no problem when another troop's pictures, names and ages appeared in other media coverage, though those photos were not individual portraits.

Dailey lost his county funding last September, when county officials asked him to remove some of his content. Dailey refused and then called the media. Salon.com ran a story claiming the county feared a lawsuit from the Santa Clara scouts for improperly displaying the troop's pictures, while CNET did a story saying the county was concerned that Dailey's site was being mistaken as an official county site. Dailey maintains both reasons were excuses and that the county really wanted him to drop his content because he was criticizing local policies by alleging on his site that the county was removing children from their parents as a way to reap federal funds.

Jackson, caught in the crossfire, continued to feel marginalized by the scouts' leadership. The final straw, she says, was when her troop was honored at the Domestic Violence Council Conference at the Fairmont Hotel in October 2001.

"The Girl Scouts told us we couldn't go there representing the Girl Scouts," Jackson says. "So Judge Edwards gave us Domestic Violence Council T-shirts to use. We did a flag ceremony, and the girls put on their pins and sashes, but after the ceremony they took them
right off."

Jackson was fired the next month, almost 10 months after the pictures of her troop had first appeared on Dailey's website. "They just had a meeting and simply said she was gonna be taken off the troop. A lot of parents were upset; they couldn't talk," says Arcelia Guel, whose daughters were in Jackson's Eden Palms troop.

Neil says she has no regrets of how the Santa Clara scouts handled the patch program. "The troops honored were representative of the council's jurisdiction. There were even Vietnamese girls," she says. "All the girls that were represented in the pilot were included in the Sacramento event. I don't have any comment [on Jackson's allegations.]"

Now, Jackson just waits. She no longer lives at Eden Palms but she has a troop again, though not with the Santa Clara scouts. This time, she's a counselor for Campfire USA, and her troop is again working with Dailey and Butler on a domestic-violence program.

"She was a good troop leader," says Mimi Abraham, who also had two daughters in Jackson's troop. "To me, if I got a chance, I'd have my kids with her again. She was a single mother. For me, if you ask if I would go back to her if I had a chance, I would. I don't know what else more she had to do."

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From the December 12-18, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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