Local African-American Scouting group affirms commitment during anniversary

Organization reaches out to inner-city teen-agers

February 27, 2000|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Wearing kente cloth scarves and bandanas with their khaki uniforms, about 100 grown-up Boy Scout leaders gathered in a sunny yellow community hall in Ashburton yesterday to affirm their commitment to give back what they have been given.

The adults, their families and about 50 Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts celebrated the 20th anniversary of Roots of Scouting, an organization of Baltimore-area Scout troops that draws members from African-American neighborhoods and churches.

About 30,000 boys are active in Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in the Baltimore area, according to local Scouting officials. Roots of Scouting founder Leo W. Burroughs estimates there are about 100 predominantly black troops in the area with about 3,000 members.

The Roots organization, which is part of Boy Scouts of America, weaves African tradition and African-American history into mainstream Scouting. Some Scout traditions -- the left-handed handshake, the exchange of wooden beads on a leather thong in advanced training -- are Zulu customs that Boy Scouts founder Sir Robert Baden-Powell observed while serving in the British army in South Africa in the late 1890s, Burroughs said.

Troop leaders include accountants and ministers, school principals and directors of community organizations, most of them former Scouts who say the experience helped guide their lives.

"It taught me the discipline I needed to stay on the right track and handle my responsibilities," said Tyrone Lucas, 38, a Scoutmaster and director of Helping Up Mission, a West Baltimore treatment center for homeless drug addicts and alcoholics. "If you come to the mission, you'll see. It's a disciplined atmosphere, much like I learned from Scouting."

The Scout leaders are reaching out to city neighborhoods where some teen-agers succumb to street life. Some boys need help paying the $7 yearly membership fee as well as purchasing uniforms and camping gear, said Craig Allen, 26, an accounts manager at Sylvan Learning Systems.

"We do what it takes to get them involved. We don't turn anybody away," Allen said. "A lot of our troubled youth, especially young black males, are good people. It's just that no one has reached out and taken them under their wing."

Among the eight men and women honored was Bernard H. Christy, 84, who became a Scout leader in 1943. A World War II worker at Edgewood Arsenal at Aberdeen Proving Ground, he founded one of the region's first Scout troops for black youths after learning that youngsters from Aberdeen's African-American community were being turned away from all-white troops.

"I felt if we could instill those values in the young men, it would teach them good citizenship," Christy said.

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