This article, the second in a two-part series, delves deeper into the lives of five recently-inducted Eagle Scouts, all Black boys and members of an historic troop based at Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ in northwest D.C., who have since started along the path of college matriculation.
Far too often and in ever-increasing proportions, when young Black males become the focus of the media and any related reports, it’s either because the youth have allegedly broken the law or have become involved in violent encounters with tragic outcomes.
Meanwhile, the more common examples of Black youth who have heeded the advice of their parents and mentors and stayed the course in the successful pursuit of higher education or gainful employment tend to be ignored. That’s why “the road less taken” successfully by five Black boys from the Greater Washington Area, each of whom made the most of programs and experiences provided by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to earn one of the organization’s highest honors, deserves greater attention and praise.
Now, the proud quintet, James Omar Dorman, Elmer Douglass Ellis Jr., Columbus Jared Giles, Ian Groom and Campbell James Wilson, has moved on, setting their sights on a more formidable challenge: college.
James Omar Dorman, who grew up in Shepard Park in Northwest, has been in scouting since the first grade. The Georgetown Day School graduate, now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, secured membership in the Order of the Arrow, the National Honor Society of the BSA, where he earned 24 merit badges. For his Eagle Scout project he collected 1,000 books for children that will be sent to libraries in Africa.
He says scouting helped him learn the importance of perseverance and preparation.
“You get a lot of knowledge, you build character and you learn how to live in the world, especially as a Black male,” he said.
Elmer Douglass “E.J.” Ellis Jr. grew up in Northeast, graduated from McKinley Technological High School and has begun his first year at Morehouse College, joining the Cinema, Television & Emerging Media Studies Program. Elmer has financial assistance after securing a College Bound scholarship with additional support due to his earlier community service and being chosen as a Bonner Scholar.
“Scouting has helped me to see that community service is not just something you do but it shapes your life,” said Ellis, also a member of the Order of the Arrow. For his Eagle Scout project, he produced a public service announcement, “Grief Relief,” to raise awareness about the stages of grief and the importance of getting help after the death of loved ones — an experience which he, despite his youth, knows intimately.
He says the project took shape after he found himself attempting to deal with the unexpected death of his father following surgery and the murder of his best friend Zaire Kelly, a student at Thurgood Marshall Academy, shot and killed during an attempted robbery. Zaire’s death gained national attention when his twin brother, Zion Kelly, called for immediate gun reform during the March for Our Lives rally held in the District earlier this year.
Columbus Jared Giles, whose family lives in Colonial Village in Northwest, graduated from Blythe-Templeton Academy and continues his academic pursuits at the University of Oregon where he’ll study clinical psychology. Giles began his scouting adventures at the tender age of six.
In 2007, in tandem with other Cub Scouts, he set a Guinness World Record for securing the Longest Knotted Rope Chain, achieved in five minutes. He earned 36 merit badges making him eligible for the Silver Eagle Palm, the highest degree of the Eagle Scout rank, earning 15 badges above and beyond the rank of Eagle, also earning membership in the Order of the Arrow.
For his Eagle Scout project, Giles planned, designed and supervised the construction of three weather stations subsequently donated to Stoddert Elementary School in Northwest in Ward 3 because he wanted them to “think creatively about weather and science.”
“Trust the process,” Giles advised when describing his scouting years.
Bowie resident Ian Groom graduated from D.C.’s St. John College High School before moving on to Hampton University where he’ll join the lacrosse team with an academic/athletic scholarship firmly under his belt. He says he wants to show that African Americans can play lacrosse at any level just like students from other ethnicities.
As a scout, he earned 22 merit badges and chose for his Eagle Scout project, a shoe drive during which he collected 750 gently worn pairs of shoes for the nonprofit group “Sole4Souls,” who distributed them around the world.
Scouting, he says, established the standard for his outlook on life.
“You have to be able to conduct yourself in a good manner in order to achieve,” Ian said. “That means knowing what you need in order to thrive in any environment.”
Campbell James Wilson entered scouting during the second grade upon the invitation of a neighbor. Now 19, he plans to study physical therapy in college. Like several of his fellow scouts, he gained membership in the Order of the Arrow, choosing for his Eagle Scout project, the construction of a retaining wall built to stem erosion of a garden wall in his community park. Without the retaining wall, the garden would have receded into Sligo Creek which runs through Takoma Park and Silver Spring in Montgomery County.
“I learned about working hard and being prepared,” Campbell said. “If you have those two things, you can accomplish anything in life.”