On the surface, Buey Tut and Clay Courts could not be less alike. Tut was born into a family of Sudanese subsistence farmers who fled to America in the late 1990s. Courts was born into an Atlanta family whose investment company was launched in 1925.
But these different men from different worlds share one thing in common: the Eagle Scout Award. And as Eagle Scouts, they are changing their worlds for the better. Two men, two worlds, one badge.
Tut joined Scouting when fellow Sudanese refugee Jacob Khol invited him to a meeting. The pitch was simple: “They talk about a lot of character-development stuff, and you get to play basketball.” But Omaha’s Troop 33 offered more than basketball; it offered a refuge from the dingy and dangerous Wintergreen Apartments, where Africans like Tut were constantly harassed. “For us to get to go somewhere on Saturday afternoons where it was safe, where nobody bothered us, where nobody called us names, was just amazing,” he said.
In Troop 33, Tut learned about leadership and service and the responsibility to give back to his community. For his Eagle Scout project, he worked on a trail in Hummel Park, a favorite troop destination. He refurbished the first half of the trail, while Khol did the second half.
Six years ago, the friends decided to give back to another community: their homeland. They created Aqua-Africa, a nonprofit organization that digs wells in South Sudanese villages and, perhaps as importantly, teaches local people how to manage them. Aqua-Africa drilled three wells in 2011 and plans to drill six more this year. That means 4,500 people will soon have access to clean drinking water without hiking a mile or more to a water source, something Khol did frequently as a child.
But Tut’s plans extend beyond Aqua-Africa. “My goal is to got back to South Sudan, whether in the private sector or the public sector, and help bring change,” he said. “I hope at some point I gain enough experience and knowledge to where I can be of use.”
Of course, if you ask people in villages like Langabu, they will tell you he’s already doing just that.
As a member of Troop 74 in Atlanta, Clay Courts fell in love with the outdoors, and especially with kayaking. After spending his first year out of college as a securities analyst — basically sitting in a closet copying annual reports into Excel — he was ready for a change. (“I was like, ‘Check, please,” he recalled.)
So Courts sold his car, sold his kayak, and embarked with a friend on what became a two-year ’round-the-world high-adventure trip. They slept in their car, survived on ramen noodles, and worked as day laborers to get by. They visited New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal, Morocco, England, Holland, Spain, and Egypt. And everywhere they hiked, camped, kayaked, surfed, and soaked up the local culture. When the money ran out, they came home.
After working in real-estate development for about seven years, Courts founded the private-equity firm Five Stand Capital. Its second acquisition was Nantahala Outdoor Center, an extremely popular North Carolina kayaking and rafting destination. Each year, the center serves some 1.1 million people, including families, Scout troops, elite athletes, and professionals taking courses such as wilderness first aid to swift-water rescue.
So what does owning an adventure outfitter have to do with service? Two things at least.
First, Courts said while NOC is popular with Scouts, it has never really catered to Scouts. So he’s working to create Scouting-specific programs that combined rafting, merit-badge classes, housing, and meals.
Second, and more importantly, Courts sees an opportunity to serve his hundreds of seasonal employees, who have strong outdoors skills but haven’t all been exposed to Scouting values such as servant leadership. So he’s started recruiting people for his staff that he knows have strong Scouting backgrounds. “I’d love to bring Eagle Scouts in, put them in different parts of the company, and just let them lead by example,” he said. “I have an opportunity to change the culture a little bit.”
Courts also works with the Scoutreach program in Atlanta, which introduces inner-city kids to Scouting. Most recently, he convinced The North Face to outfit an entire Atlanta troop with its best gear. “These inner-city kids are wearing Summit-series stuff; they’re ready to tackle Everest,” he said.
I saw Tut and Courts today at NOAC’s Founder’s Day Fair. They were talking about holding an Aqua-Africa in Atlanta — and planning a side trip to the Nantahala.
Two men, two worlds, one badge.