Editorial: Scouting builds character

Rev. Matthew Southhall Brown Sr. addresses the audience after receiving the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. (Will Peebles/Savannah Morning News)

A few weeks ago, the local Boy Scouts organization recognized four Savannah trailblazers for their efforts in leading the community and for being positive influences in the lives of local young people.

 

During a time when this community is desperate for answers to the problems of poverty and youth violence, these awards were well-timed and its recipients were deserving.

Programs that build good character among our community’s youths are needed today more than ever.

The trailblazers who were honored with the Whitney M. Young Jr. awards by the Boy Scouts of America’s Coastal Georgia Council were Rev. Matthew Southhall Brown Sr., Dr. James Alphonso Dandy, Lester B. Johnson Jr. and Otis S. Johnson — all were excellent selections.

The award recognizes outstanding service by an adult or an organization for involvement in the development and implementation of scouting opportunities for youth from rural or low-income urban backgrounds.

Brown is a stalwart of Savannah’s faith community. He was born and raised in Savannah, and returned to the city after serving in the military during World War II. He became the pastor of St. John Baptist Church, more commonly known as “The Mighty Fortress.” He led the church from 1969 to 2005. He gets credit for establishing two of the earliest black Scout troops in Savannah: one at The Mighty Fortress and the other at First African Baptist Church.

Brown equated the lessons learned from scouting to the lessons learned through military training while addressing the audience at the award ceremony.

“Scouting is like the military,” he said. “Once the military teaches you something, you don’t forget it. Even after the multiplied years, I can still remember my serial number: 34949516.”

Dandy, Savannah’s first black optometrist, moved to the Hostess City from Lake City, Florida, in 1972. After working for 32 years, he retired, but he didn’t slow down. He now serves as the administrator for Antioch Medical Associates, a podiatry practice specializing in diabetic foot care. He’s also the present of Dandy Youth Development Corporation.

“When I was a boy, we didn’t have black Boy Scouts,” Dandy said. “I thank you so very much.”

Lester Johnson Jr. was Savannah’s first black Eagle Scout, which was a splendid achievement that took considerable effort. He went on to teach at Savannah State University after getting his doctorate. He served as patrol leader and den chief for Troop 47 at Ashbury Methodist Church.

Johnson recalled a particular advantage to being a Scout back in the day.

“If you dated a girl and her mother knew you were a Boy Scout, she knew you were all right,” Lester Johnson said. Today’s young men should make note of this advantage to scouting.

The final award honoree, Otis S. Johnson was the first black student at Armstrong Junior College in 1964. After getting his master’s degree and Ph.D., serving six years in the Naval Reserve and serving as Savannah’s District 2 alderman, he became mayor of Savannah. Otis Johnson was mayor from 2004 to 2012. Through it all, he remembered his time as a Scout.

“It had a profound influence on who I have become,” Otis Johnson said. “When you think of the Scout laws and that motto, and all the things that go into scouting, it shows they are creating a new generation of men who have values and some grounding in who they are.”

Otis Johnson makes a great point. For the record, here are the 12 points of the Scout law: A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Each helps a young man to be properly grounded and make good healthy choices in his life.

Derek Mallow, a senior district executive for the Boy Scouts, rightly praised the award-winners and their commitment to local leadership.

“A majority of the honorees who spoke, their lives were significantly changed because of their involvement in the Boy Scout program,” Mallow said. “Just imagine how many more experiences we could create if more kids had the same opportunity.”

He’s right about that. And it’s just one more reason for the public to support character-building organizations like the Boy Scouts, which are needed now more than ever.

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