Raising Black Boys: Back To Basics

September 3, 2010 

Afrcan American Boy Scouts

Boy Scout Troop 107, Steeltown, PA

When I entered the fifth grade I was finally old enough and couldn’t wait to join the Boy Scouts.  The uniforms were cool and scouts got to go camping and learned all sorts of neat things.  I was ready on that early autumn Tuesday evening.  My father chaperoned me to my first meeting.  Briefly interviewed by the Scout Master this 10 year old boasted of his ability to recite the oath and the law.  The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.  

The Scout Master was impressed with my precocious gung ho attitude while my father concealed his embarrassment mingled with pride.  He knew my choosing  this experience was important to me and he respected it.  As a young boy few things interested me and I remember the excitement at the arrival of my monthly Boy’s Life magazine; picking out my first uniform at the J.C. Penny’s.  By rout memory I learned the Scout law: to be Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverend.  I now realized these lofty ideals would help shape my character and outlook and resonating throughout my life.

In recent summers I witness throngs of Boy Scouts touring the city during the annual summer jamborees at AP Hill.  I can’t honestly say I remember seeing an African American scouts among the hundreds.  Back in my day at the annual exposition held at the Armory there were several local African American troops with exhibit booths.  I wonder how many African American Boy Scout troops exist across the states today–probably not many.  Things are different now.  I belonged to an African American troop at Hopkins House in Alexandria.  The Boy Scouts like every other American institution has a history of discrimination and segregation. 

Since the civil rights movement and integration African American communities have undergone a transformation.   The village concept of the community’s sense of solidarity forged by a history of Jim Crowism and segregation all built around churches and schools have been lost.  Looking back the Boy Scout experience was fundamental to my education. Today’s kids may be consumed with skate boars, video games, sports, and hip hop music all of which might offer some valuable training.  But what builds character?

Around age ten is a critical time in a boy’s life.  Some have the idea that raising boys requires less nurturing than girls; the notion that boys will somehow take care of themselves.  An intended benefit of nurturing is the building of character a task the communities have been neglecting evidenced with more young men in jail than college or gainfully employed.  We have somehow lost our boys to the transformation.  We can regain them and save the future by getting back to basics.  What better curriculum than the Boy Scout laws.

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