Saunders

This gang builds character

Staff WriterJune 4, 2009 

Everyone wants to keep kids out of gangs, right?

Not Brandon Stokes.

He is trying to recruit kids to join his gang, one with its own colors and three-finger salute.

His is not, you understand, one of those gangs typified by gravity-defying sagging britches and violence, but a gang characterized by service.

Stokes' gang? The Boy Scouts of America.

He is Falls District executive of the Occoneechee Council Boy Scouts of America, and on Wednesday, he hosted a "Friends of Scouting" fundraising breakfast at the North Hills Club. Close to 60 people came out early to hear Stokes tell why his gang, the Scouts, is still important.

I know it is, even though I was a Scout for exactly one day. That is how long it took for me to be ordered to run through the "beltline" for some infraction of Troop113's rules: the welts on my butt and legs after all the members took a whack at me with their belts convinced me that I didn't have what it took to be a good Scout.

I had, though, precisely what it took to become a bad punk.

Membership in the 15,000-member, 12-county Occoneechee Council has declined slightly in recent years, Stokes said, but his fellow executives and he are adopting new strategies to attract boys.

"Mostly marketing changes," he said. "We're not changing our values, but we're having year-round membership drives, going to churches and families of former Scouts."

A seemingly natural place to fish for Scouts would be the public schools, I mentioned to Stokes, but he said the Scouts "have limited access" to schools "because of some of our values and beliefs."

He said the Scouts don't promote any specific denomination but do "believe in a higher power."

That, and, no doubt, the Scouts' controversial stand on homosexuality -- they're against it -- make them unwelcome at public schools.

Too bad, because schools are a fertile breeding ground for the types of gangs that don't help old ladies cross the street.

I knew kids, and I'm guessing there are still some like them out there, who eschewed the Scouts not because they didn't think Scouting was cool but because they didn't have the money for memberships and uniforms.

You know how some churches compete against each other to see who can build the largest self-aggrandizing edifice or whose pastor can drive the fanciest whip?

Wouldn't it be cool if they competed to see how many kids they could adopt and sponsor in the Scouts or some other worthwhile organization?

We're fast approaching the point where anything we can do to keep kids out of the wrong types of gangs and in school must be done.

At a "stop the violence rally" Saturday to commemorate yet another homicide involving a young black man, Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan said, "The children we neglect today all too often grow up to be the high school dropouts who prey upon us tomorrow."

Speaking at the same rally, the Rev. Claude Willie said, "Young people feel today it's better to belong to a gang than to graduate from high school and college"

Depending upon which gang they choose, they can do both.

Just ask Brandon Stokes. You can reach him at 919-872-4884.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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