Great article in Philadelphia Inquirer
Dave Hultberg (dave.hultberg@PAONLINE.COM)
Wed, 4 Feb 1998 14:29:57 +0000
The following article just appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It
is excellent publicity for BSA and the Cradle of Liberty Council, but
more important IMHO is that it shows how committed parents and leaders
can be a positive influence in the lives of young men.
By William R. Macklin
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
They are Boy Scouts, these 11 restlessly ambitious African American
teens in their irreproachable uniforms, green sashes affixed with
merit badges so numerous they seem to crowd the fabric.
But don't call them boys.
To call them boys is to undermine their accomplishments and to
downplay the dedication of their parents and their troop. By any
estimate, what the
members of Troop 358 at Grace Baptist Church of Germantown have done
is remarkable. Over the next few months, the troop, one of the oldest
African American Boy Scout units in the country, will see 11 of its
members advance to Eagle -- the highest rank in scouting. In the
process, the troop, which will honor the 11 at its 45th anniversary
dinner on Saturday, will fly in the face of statistics showing that
only 2.5 percent of the nation's 4.5 million scouts make it to the top
of the program and that only 1 percent of African American scouts ever
earn the Eagle badge.
"It's extraordinary," said John Hotz, a district executive for the
Cradle of Liberty Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which has
29,000 scouts in Philadelphia, Montgomery and Delaware Counties. "It
is highly unusual that a troop would have that many Eagles in one
Hotz was unsure whether the 11 Eagles of Troop 358 would break a
record for the most scouts to achieve the rank from a single troop in
a single year. But he is certain the troop's success can be traced to
the same factors that experts insist are crucial for the progress, and
even survival, of young urban males: strong parental support and
persistent guidance from other caring adults.
For years, Jarrett Coger, 15, had been a Boy Scout without
distinction, struggling along, unable to advance through the ranks,
certain that he wanted to just chuck the whole thing, when his
parents, William P. and Linda Coger, showed him a newspaper story
about how few boys make Eagle.
"Around the same time, I saw someone have their court of honor a
celebration of a scout's advancement to Eagle, and I decided that I
had to do it," said Jarrett, who eventually earned 35 merit badges, 14
more than is required to become an Eagle.
His father said parents are often able to see the hidden potential in
their children and should use that knowledge to help them succeed.
"We knew that if he had a challenge, he would go for it," William
Coger said. "He may not have been able to see the benefit, but as
parents, we could."
On Saturday, at the anniversary celebration, parents and friends of
the Eagles of Troop 358 will commemorate the benefits of scouting for
Jarrett Coger, Jerece Barnes, Askia Fluellen, Bruce Frazier, Andre
Kydd, Jared Le Vere, Sean Long, Kyle McIntosh, Robert Redding, Ernest
Stanton and Anwar White.
Someone should also commemorate the steadfastness of the scouts'
parents, said family therapist Marlene F. Watson.
"There is a message out there that the black family has
disintegrated," said Watson, director of the master's and doctorate
programs in couples and family therapy at Allegheny University of the
"We have to reinforce the idea that there are families who defy that
message and hold their children to a standard of accountability," she
said, adding that all parents can exert a strong influence on their
children's choices, if they are clear and forceful about their own
values and standards.
In its 45-year history, Troop 358 has produced a total of 33 Eagle
Scouts, including the 11 expected to make the rank this year. And for
much of that time, Boy Scouting has been viewed by many young African
American males as an object of ridicule, a defender of traditional
white values and power, badly out of step with black teens' needs and
"At first, when my sons went to school, they tried to keep it under
cover, like they were ashamed of it," said Barbara Barnes. "But you
had three scouts at the same school, and when they began making Eagle
and getting recognition, they became proud."
Barnes' son, Jerece, 17, is the second Eagle in his household. His
brother, Jean-Pierce, now a sophomore at Lincoln University, made the
rank two years ago. The Barneses are the first family in Troop 358 to
produce two Eagles, a fact that has not escaped Jerece.
"All the things I'd seen my brother do, I knew it was going to be
hard," said Jerece, who stole a bit of thunder for himself by
developing an innovative idea for the community service project he was
required to complete: a workshop for city kids who wanted to bone up
for the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Kyle McIntosh, who has been a scout for 11 of his 17 years, said
nobody gives him flak, even when he wears his uniform on the street.
Broad-shouldered, with the kind of icy calm usually attributed to
drill sergeants, Kyle has a rep for not taking guff and for doing the
job right the first time. The senior at Chestnut Hill Academy
completed eight of his 29 merit badges in one week of frenzied
activity, even though "some of them are supposed to take months,
including all the paper work," he said. When he wrapped up his Eagle
service project painting a school, he related each step
of the experience in a 22-page diary, even though scouting rules
required him to submit just one page.
"Most of them are not this detailed," said Henry Stoughton, a
Jenkintown accountant, Eagle Scout and volunteer with the Cradle of
Liberty Council, who reviews Eagle applicants to make sure they are
After an Eagle board of review last week, in which Stoughton and adult
leaders from Troop 358 grilled McIntosh about his future as one of
scouting's chosen few, the square-jawed young scout was asked if he'd
been rattled by the experience -- the final step on his path to the
top of the pyramid.
"No," he answered blandly. "I wasn't nervous at all."
That kind of mature confidence delights A. Bruce Frazier and Charles
M. Whiting. Frazier is Troop 358's scoutmaster, and Whiting is the
unit's chairman. With their three longtime assistant scoutmasters ("We
have over 120 years of scouting experience," said Whiting), the men
act as role models, counselors, big brothers, surrogate fathers and,
if need be, tough-talking authoritarians to the 47 scouts registered
to their all-African American troop.
Frazier and Whiting, both Philadelphia public school principals and
former Boy Scouts, said they began working to develop their aerie of
Eagles more than a year ago, when they noticed what Frazier called "a
cluster of Life Scouts" in their troop. Life Scout is the rank that
"We decided to see if we could get them to advance," said Frazier, who
started with Troop 358 as a Cub Scout 33 years ago.
In addition to the community service project and the 21 merit badges
(including time-consuming efforts in such required subjects as
environmental science and personal financial management), each Eagle
has to demonstrate the ability to lead patrols and perform all the
requisites of life in the out-of-doors, including fire-making and
A few years ago, the troop came in dead last during a rigorous
invitation-only camping competition at the Snuffy Hollow camp in New
"It was a total disappointment for some of the boys," said LeRoy
Wallace, head of Grace Baptist Church's Webelo's Scout preparation
program, a member of Troop 358's Eagle review board, and father of
Eagle Scout Brian Wallace, 20.
"The next year, they went back and won most-improved," LeRoy Wallace
said. "Even though they are the only black troop at Snuffy Hollow,
they are not intimidated. It was a challenge, and they faced it. They
never want to be last again."
For Troop 358, there is more than a sense of idle achievement at
Frazier, father of Eagle Scout Bruce Frazier, said that becoming an
Eagle can be an important step in developing the leadership ability,
life skills and ambition that can keep a young man off the streets,
help him land a job, or get him accepted to a good university.
"We had one boy get into college almost totally on the basis of being
an Eagle Scout," he said.
While there's no hard evidence that being an Eagle Scout will
necessarily make any of the young men of Troop 358 titans of industry
or political power brokers, the Boy Scouts of America has its share of
anecdotal proof that becoming an Eagle can be a good career move.
Reading from names compiled by the BSA, Hotz pointed out that the
short list of high-profile Eagle Scouts includes former NBA star and
U.S. senator Bill Bradley, Apollo 13 astronaut James A. Lovell Jr.,
the late Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Harrison Salisbury, H. Ross
Perot, Gerald R. Ford, Secretary of the Army Togo West, and film
director Steven Spielberg.
Ultimately, becoming an Eagle Scout is, said Frazier, a challenge to
an adolescent male's sense of himself and his place in the world.
"There are no rites of passage to take a young black male from boyhood
to manhood," he said. "That's what we do in an Eagle court of honor."
In Troop 358, a court of honor, typically a ceremony for the scout's
closest friends and family, is elevated to the level of all-out
celebration with sit-down dinner and, occasionally, pricey gifts for
the newly minted Eagle. It also has evolved into a motivational and
recruitment tool, convincing younger scouts that, with diligence,
they, too, can soar to the top of the scouting food chain, and
reassuring parents that the program gets results.
It's a proven strategy. Although Troop 358 has been sponsored by Grace
Baptist for four decades, only a third of the scouts are members at
the church, said Frazier. Scores of parents from outside the
congregation seek out the troop, hoping that it will shape their boys
into solid men. They often have no other choice.
"At one time you'd go down Germantown Avenue, and there would be a lot
of scout troops," said Whiting, a highly decorated volunteer and Eagle
Scout, who made the rank two decades ago, when African American Eagles
Troop 358 held on, in large measure, because of the effort of one man:
scoutmaster Earl Grayson, who died in 1996.
For 36 years, Grayson led the troop, Frazier said, building it,
inspiring it and, when necessary, giving its boys and leaders a swift
kick in the motivation.
Frazier recalled Grayson's hard-bitten reaction to the suggestion that
a camping trip, destined to be buried by a snowstorm, be canceled.
"He said, How are you going to demonstrate commitment to these kids if
you don't make a commitment?" said Frazier. "Of course, we went."
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City