Historic Boy Scout troop flourishes
After learning to tie knots and administer first aid, delivering lunches to low-income preschool children and building trails and dams in Houston’s parks, a dozen young men in khaki shirts and sashes crowded with merit badges trooped onto the stage Saturday morning at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. They were being promoted to the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest honor in the Boy Scouts of America.
The 12 were one of the largest groups of African Americans to achieve the honor at the same time in Houston’s history, according to their troop, number 242.
As Boy Scout participation across the nation has steadily declined — the number of Boy Scouts and Varsity Scouts fell 8 percent between 2012 and 2017 — the historically African American troop has been flourishing in the Third Ward.
Parents drive their children from across town to participate in the program, according to Jeffery Misher, a cub master who became a Troop 242 Eagle Scout in 1978. The troop counts the children of former Congressman Mickey Leland, former Houston city council member Anthony Hall and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee among its alumni.
And 54 years after it started, the troop — founded by a pastor who had been rejected from a white Boy Scout troop as a child — is still promoting nearly as many Eagle Scouts as it did in the ’70s, when the nationwide popularity of the program hit its peak.
The reason for troop’s continued success? “It truly is a family,” said Tanyel Bennett, mother of freshly minted Eagle Scout Shane Bennett.
Misher also compared the troop to family. “Families, if they’re working properly, are strong,” he said.
At a park in Southwest Houston Sunday afternoon, Shane Bennett, Dameion Crook and Eric Sims, each wearing their newly awarded Eagle Scout pins, were still basking in the glow of their success. They said that they had formed bonds within the scouting community. “It made me think about coming back to support people when I’m older,” Sims said of those relationships; “I grew close to other scouts,” Crook said, “I wanted to do more and see the troop grow.”
Scouting also led them to undertake initiatives in the wider community. The path they walked Sunday along beside the Willow Waterhole, lined with signs identifying the types of nearby trees, had been laid through the efforts of nine Eagle Scouts and a Gold Award winner, the Girl Scout equivalent.
Bennett, one of the scouts who had led the trail project, said working on the path had taught him how to delegate as he coordinated a team of volunteers in putting down gravel and installing signposts. Crook and Sims learned about dealing with bureaucratic paperwork as they secured permissions to beautify their high school, Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy, by installing an outdoor seating area with chairs, stools and bird feeders.
And the troop also provided a forum for frank discussions on subjects such as racism and police brutality.
“Our Scout master told us how the world works,” Crook said. “You need to try harder than other people.”
By making the rank of Eagle Scout — something only four percent of Boy Scouts nationwide are able to achieve — they have already been recognized for their outstanding character.
“People look at you differently when you say you’re an Eagle Scout,” Bennett said. “They know you have high expectations for yourself.”