Personal Scouting photo collection image
Last weekend I attended my Council's Executive Board meeting in Brussels, Belgium. My commitment to the Transatlantic Council -- the primary local Council I am registered through -- calls for me to attend in person at least one Board meeting each year and to participate via teleconference to three of the other four meetings during the year. In exchange, I get to help guide the local Council I grew up in, give leadership at the unit level with, and now support as the Council expands to three times its former size.
On Sunday evening, I sat down with a pilot and flight attendant from a British-based regional airline and enjoyed dinner. After the obligatory questions about my uniform, the patches and insignia, and what I did for a living -- which as I remind you, I work for the US Air Force (and "not as a pilot" as I commented to them) -- the questions turned to heritage.
The flight attendant and I are both Black (of some sort of African extraction). She asked me if I've ever met the President ("No, I have seen him from afar when he would arrive at the airport to a waving and appreciative crowd though...") or Colin Powell ("I wrote to him and requested an autographed photo, which his office mailed out to me...but no..." I hope to).
I have met and talked with Secretary Togo West, the former Secretary of the Army, and later Secretary of Veterans Affairs. I explained that we sat together during a Scout's Eagle Court of Honor in Virginia.
Distinguished Eagle Scout and former President of the National Capital Area Council, the Honorable Togo West Jr. presided over and spoke during the Court of Honor of Eagle Scout Michael E. Freeman II, Troop 1906 on the morning of 15 June 2013 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Alexandria (Gum Springs), VA.
Then Lisa provided me with some education while asking me a pointed question.
"Did you join Scouts because Martin King was a Boy Scout? I think that your Scout association would make this a big deal with the observance of his birthday and all. Did you know that his father was also a Scout?"
(I love the way she -- and other Brits -- speak. It was "faat-ter" instead of "father"...)
I knew that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Scout. I wrote somewhere else that materials on display at the BSA's Atlanta Area Council illustrates that Martin King Jr. made it up to either First Class or Star Scout before academics and ministry (not both but one at a time) took him away from Ebenezer Baptist Church's Troop 151 at age 15. The young King entered Morehouse College then and started down the trail leading to his Bachelor's degree in Sociology.
"No," I answered Lisa, "It's a shame, but back then, nobody told us -- at least I did not remember hearing or reading about it -- that Dr. King was a Boy Scout. I joined Scouts because I pestered my Mom to a point I got a beating about it. She later allowed me to join Scouts, even though the only thing they knew about it was something special that White boys got to be a part of. "
"Nothing in your JET or EBONY magazines?" Lisa asked. JET and EBONY were and continue to be the "black versions" of today's PEOPLE and Variety with a little Sports Illustrated tossed in.
I moved my head from side to side, indicating "nope." There was very little -- and STILL very little -- in those publications aimed at people of color helping to give reflection and motivation toward being the best we could be in life. JET and EBONY chronicled the civil rights, "Black Power" and "diversity of color" movements over time, and Scouting would have been a good fit. My parents, like many Black parents, purchased multi-year subscriptions to both journals. I would read both like I would read almost anything else during my youth -- and I never saw anyone who "looked like me" in a Scout uniform or discussed about Scouting within those pages.
I missed quite a few issues however, as I was growing up, so there was a possibility. I doubt it. Scouting, in the Black community, does not "sell" magazines. Regardless of hue or color, celebrity does "sell" magazines and so does bloodshed and controversies.
So when I got back to my room after a great dinner with a new friend, I started to look up what I did not know about a great civil rights American and former Scout. Here's what I found:
The troop met at Ebenezer Baptist Church, now part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Both King men served as pastors there. Today, Atlanta Area Council's Pack and Troop 213 meets there. There must be some proud Scouts, knowing that both Dr. Kings were members of Scouting there and that some of that Scouting rubbed off into other areas of their lives.
The charter application (they are on display in Atlanta; copies are also online)reflects not only the young Martin King being an active Scout; but also his father, Reverent Martin L. King Senior, as that Troop's Institutional Representative (IR, which today is simply called the "Chartered Partner Representative" or COR).
The young King attended campouts, helped raised money for the Troop, and along with other Scouts in the Troop, served as an usher during special programs.
No, the fact that Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Scout influenced me toward wanting to become a Scout; it certainly did not impact my parents because, like most, they simply did not know this fact. Now WE know the actual fact.
Perhaps the BSA should put together a YouTube video highlighting Dr. King's Scouting experience. Something like "Being a part of Scouting will help you make an impact on American life. You don't have to be an Eagle Scout. You just need drive, determination... ...and a dream. "