Walton image purchased by Shutterstock
The one nagging question that people in general -- folks who don't know me -- along with my friends and family (it was my mother's favorite question and even after she's been gone from the earth years ago, it still rings clear in my head) ask me.
"Why are you still doing this? You don't have kids in Scouting. You can't really earn anything from it anymore -- you're old. There's no money in it. So why are you still at it?"
The short answer is two-fold: because I truly LOVE the game of Scouting and because I want to share what my parents, other kid's parents, and lots of people who don't even have kids in Scouting did for me.
Even when the rules are sometimes ignored in the interest of racist and male-dominance advancements on the part of some. Even when the local games are played with the sons of the parent leaders getting "all of the badges and things first" at the expense of the rest of the boys who want those same things. Even when the district and council games are played using a set of rules contained in no rule book and no guidance other than "it's my council...we will play it my way or no way."
Even with that bit of corruption, spite, and jealousies -- I STILL LOVE Scouting. Why?
(I'm beginning to sound like a little Mike Walton, constantly asking his mother "Why?")
Because Scouting gave me real-life lessons at an early age, that's why. It was and continues to be the "Great Equalizer" that I explain in these pages. It is the one place in which young men can test out their manhood in positive methods when the rules are applied to all young men equally in that neighborhood or community. It is the one place where a Scout's ability is not limited by his strength of body but by his strength of personal character and his personal ambition.
I have seen it in other boys. I have witnessed it in myself. And like the saying "been there, done that, got the tee-shirt...” I have not only received the tee-shirt, but I have waited at the top of the hill and pulled, yelled and encouraged others to get the same tee-shirt. To do "that" too.
Someone called me a "positive role model for Blacks involved in Scouting," That's a fair assessment based on the fact that there are very few Black men that have "been there, done that..." as I've been blessed to do over a 40-year period, give or take a couple of years. I, however, would prefer to be called a "trendsetter" when it comes to my role within Scouting - for all youth and adults, not just the ones who carry the same African or Caribbean roots which are in my body.
Benny was a friend of mine when I was growing up in Petersburg, Virginia. Benny was like me -- short stuff black pieces who basically were pushed out of the way by the older boys. That was, until one day that Benny showed up to school wearing a pair of tennis shoes. His parents -- father in the Army like my Dad -- bought him those shoes because he had problems walking in the black patent standard leather shoes that most kids were wearing back in the middle 60s.
Everyone -- including me -- laughed and teased Benny for his choice in shoes. The taunts and kidding turned to amazement when Benny did the shuttle run in the playground faster than even the fastest of the sixth graders. Benny also started to pay more attention in class and stopped fidgeting with his legs -- for the shoes also helped with his posture and with his walking gait. And girls started to actually look at his red tennies with the white laces --washed every night by his mother for sure -- as a fashion statement.
Some started to LIKE Benny.
It was only a bit of time when other kids started showing up at school wearing "tennies" too – boys and girls, even those above the second grade (the grade in which Benny and I were in at the time). No longer was the source of jokes and taunts; Benny became POPULAR.
I wanted a pair too...but my parents said: "no, it's not a proper shoe for schooling..."
Benny was a trendsetter. He may have cried and worked his way through his parents to get and wear those shoes... he endured I don't know how many beatings and tray tips and dirty looks and words by others; but he was there every day wearing that same pair of no-name tennis shoes. He was proud of what those shoes could do for him. He didn't care about "looking afflicted" (that
was our word for "lame" back then).
Later in my own life, I took a page from Benny's book of personal character building in the seventh grade. Long after Scout Week that year, I would wear my Scout uniform to school once a week. Scout meeting night. God, I don't know why I started to do that when I knew that guys like Phillip Moore and Donny Smith and King Taylor would literally beat the snot out of me on those Mondays. For a while anyway.
Sure enough, other Scouts emerged from the shadows and started wearing THEIR Scout shirts and pants to school too. By the time of the end of my middle school years, every boy who was in a Scout Troop and lived in the housing areas served by the middle school were wearing their Scout uniform – neckerchief, hat and all -- to school on Monday (the day that most Troops were meeting back then) or Wednesday. Other boys wanted to wear those nice khaki green outfits too, and so they joined our Troops. The taunts and the jeers went down a lot because there was power in numbers. And the girls...I still to this day remember what a young Holly Hiers told me one afternoon: "you really look good in a uniform. Sometimes you remind me of my dad wearing his dress Army uniform."
No, not a role model...a trendsetter.
More than the tears I've shed when a fellow Eagle Scout is awarded that precious special badge by his parents. Or the tears streaming down my face from witnessing a Scouter's career being explained as he or she is receiving a service award from their peers. Or the fact that my heart wants to leap out from the near-center of my chest when I see Scouts and Scouters having a great time.
When, during the last day of the 2001 National Scout Jamboree, I cried like a baby and had to pull my van off to the side of the road after looking at and listening to the loud, proud voice of some Black kid, proudly holding in one hand a large fish still attached to the hook and line:
"Hey look!! I caught this!! I caught this!!" as I was leaving the National Scout Jamboree for home…
That's why. That's the reason why I am still involved in Scouting -- as much as I can be given my lot in life.
It is that kid holding the fish. Pick your color, pick your racial group, pick your part of the world he and his parents come from. The fact that he caught his first fish -- or the 20th. The fact that he used a pole or just a hook and line to catch it.
He did it, and he was proud enough to share his pride with anyone and everyone he could get to listen to him. Not in boast -- but in pure pride. One cannot help but to moisten up in pride for him too!
I simply love Scouting and everything it has the potential to do for a young man. I know this because I've experienced it as a member of all of its programs, as an adult volunteer at all levels of the program, and briefly as a part-time professional member of the Boy Scouts of America. And rather than to keep it all to myself, I share my experiences -- good, bad and otherwise -- with you and others. That's why.