Taking wing in West Baltimore

Scouting: A young man soars where few from the neighborhood have, attaining the top rank of Eagle.

April 07, 2000|By Nora Koch | Nora Koch,SUN STAFF

When Terence Gibson got a bad case of poison ivy on his first weeklong camping trip with the Boy Scouts, his scoutmaster didn't think the then-11-year-old would spend the night in the wilderness again.

Despite memories of a swollen face and uncontrollable itching, Gibson camped again. He worked his way to the Boy Scouts of America's highest rank: Eagle Scout.

It's an accomplishment fewer than 3 percent of Boy Scouts achieve, but it's even more uncommon these days for a kid from West Baltimore. Honored last week as the area's first Eagle Scout in three years, Gibson isn't stopping there.

Because the age limit for Eagle Scouts is 18 and Gibson will reach that age tomorrow, he will become Troop 192's assistant scoutmaster Wednesday.

"One day, I want to come back and be a scoutmaster," Gibson said. "I want to help keep guys off the streets and show them there are different, better ways in life."

To become an Eagle Scout, a boy must earn 21 merit badges in areas such as first aid, citizenship, camping and family life. He must also organize and complete a substantial community project.

Gibson coordinated a paint job for the dining facility of Siloam Freewill Baptist Church, where he is in the youth group and choir. It took two Saturdays for Gibson and about 30 volunteers to complete the task at the West Baltimore church.

He finished his Eagle Scout requirements last year, but paperwork delayed the official ceremony until this month.

He and his mother recently moved to East Baltimore near Patterson Park, but he continues to make the half-hour weekly trip to be with his troop at St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore.

"To become an Eagle Scout, you have to hang in with the program," said Steve Blake, Troop 192's scoutmaster. "As kids get older, they have a lot of distractions, and in the African-American community, a lot of kids look at Boy Scouts with a frown. They leave before they have the opportunity to reach the pinnacle."

Of the 989 Boy Scouts in Baltimore last year, 11 (about 1 percent) were Eagle Scouts. Last year, the Baltimore region had 9,281 Boy Scouts, of whom 318 (about 3 percent) were Eagle Scouts.

Gibson joined Blake's Cub Scout troop, then moved up to the Boy Scout group when he was 10. Most of the boys Gibson joined with are no longer Scouts. The younger boys in the troop say they look up to Gibson as a big brother and role model.

"Everyone wants to try to go ahead and accomplish it too now," said Scout Stanley Patterson, 16, of West Baltimore. "Terence making it is pushing us further."

Gibson received an Eagle Scout medal, scarf, patch and ring at a ceremony Saturday at St. Edward that was attended by almost 100 friends and family members. Troop members joked at Wednesday's weekly meeting that Gibson was so excited about the honor that he probably wore the ring to school.

"Of course I wore it. I'm proud," said the 6-foot-6, 310-pound left guard for Paul Laurence Dunbar High School's varsity football squad.

"He's a special kid," Blake said. "I pray my kids grow up to be like him."

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