Phil Ferguson of the Boy Scouts

| February 11, 2016
Eric Hackley

Eric Hackley

By Eric D. Hackley

I am now speaking with Phil Ferguson, outreach coordinator with the Anthony Wayne Area Council of Boy Scouts of America.

Eric Hackley: How long have you been working to build a Boy Scout troop with Fort Wayne Urban League youth?

Phil Ferguson: I took over about three years ago. Before then, it was done by another coordinator.

HACKLEY: What are your goals in working with these young men?

FERGUSON: The program is geared for several different age groups starting at kindergarten and going through high school.  As a matter of fact, there is a group of kids called Explorers or Venture Scouts that actually goes through age 21.

The whole idea of scouting is to build character in young men. In a nutshell, it teaches boys to be men by showing them character, showing them leadership, showing them loyalty and showing them how to be trustworthy.  A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, brave, clean and reverent. If a kid puts those things into his life, he’ll be a well rounded young man who can do anything that he chooses to do.

HACKLEY: What do you communicate with young people that keeps them enthused in what you’re trying to do?

Phil Ferguson has been involved with scouting most of his life.

Phil Ferguson has been involved with scouting most of his life.

FERGUSON: It has to be fun for them. So, I try to keep it energetic. I try to keep it exciting. I try to have fun with them.  At the same time, I have to instill values.  I have to make sure they’re following the rules, that they’re doing the things that I expect.  For instance, when we’re doing the pledge of allegiance to the flag, they have to show reverence and respect for that flag and to understand why. That becomes my job. My job is to teach them these matters of respect, how to respect authority, how to respect and understand what it means to say the pledge. What it means to be an American. What it means to be a young black American, both good and bad.

HACKLEY: I am feeling a lot of passion coming from you about this program. How did you first get involved with the Boy Scouts?

FERGUSON: It goes back to when I was about an 11 or 12 old year kid in Los Angeles, Calif. A friend of mine asked me to join his troop and I’ve been in scouting ever since. I’ve gone through the ranks, up through the rank of Life Scout just below Eagle. Eagle is the highest rank you can get in scouting as a boy.  Then as I became a young adult, I became an assistant scout master for my original scout master. Then as I moved from Los Angeles to Texas, each time I would get to a new place, for some reason I would find out that I have scouting skills and I end up becoming part of the scouting program.

It comes back from the kid born and raised at South Central Los Angeles who was able to navigate my way through Crenshaw High School, Bloods, Crips territory of Gang bangers. I didn’t have any time for that because I was too involved in scouting.

Phil Ferguson in his Boy Scouts uniform.

Phil Ferguson in his Boy Scouts uniform.

I was doing all kinds of things, camping, hiking, fishing, you name it, I was doing it. And I didn’t have to time to hang out in the street and caught up in gangs. I found a different gang, a scouting gang. A gang that had positive values. And because I was such an active scout during my time in Los Angeles, I got exposed to some opportunities that a lot of kids have never got to do. I had the opportunity to ride around with presidents of the Pacific Bell Telephone Company and other corporations.  They used to invite me with them because I was a positive young black kid doing something good and it gave me a lot of exposures. I got to represent Los Angeles in and met Gerald Ford at the White House, representing the Los Angeles area explorers post president’s conference.

It was just an awesome experience for me and I value the time that I spent with my scout master and him coming to pick me up and take me to meetings and has spending his time with me and then treated me like one of his boys even when I was at his house.  It was just unreal and as I got older, I realized he gave a lot to me. In fact if you’d look at my DNA you’re going to find some Al Wilson DNA. Some of the things that I do are based on what I learned from Mr. Wilson and his wife Kaye.  I feel obligated to give back. I feel obligated to give what I got.  I feel it because mom didn’t have a lot of time but Al had time, Kaye had time and I appreciate them so I’ve got to give back to what was given to me.

HACKLEY: As you travelled around with different scouting programs, how are the kids different, if they are different from one locale to another?

FERGUSON: You can go right here in Fort Wayne and see the difference because I have 17 units that I visit on a weekly basis between me and my team. There’s 17 units that we see  and you can see the difference coming from North Fort Wayne to the South side of Fort Wayne.

The difference is parent engagement, parent training and lack of parent training. So, somebody’s got to stand in the gap and work for our boys. Somebody’s going to stand in the gap and show our boys that there’s a different way.  Somebody’s got to be there that has a positive role model and I hope to God and I pray on a daily basis that I can give some guidance to these kids, some direction, some sense of loyalty, some sense of worth, some sense of, yeah you can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it and don’t let anybody tell you different.

As a matter of fact, Psalms 139:14 says you are fearfully and wonderfully made so don’t let anybody tell you that can be less than you are because God put a plan, when he put you together in your mother’s womb. He had a plan for your life. It is our job to fulfill that plan and to help young men find their goal in life and become productive citizens.

HACKLEY: I’ve noticed that when you’re working with younger people, they’re great today and tomorrow they’re mentally off in some place. How do you avoid frustrations?

FERGUSON: It’s impossible. It’s funny you should mention that. I just taught a lesson on Sunday dealing with the life of Joseph and all the pains that he went through.  But one thing that was consistent in Genesis starting with chapter 37, every time those who had a success that people saw, they would say, “But God was with him.”

I have to remember that even though I may not see the fruits of my labor today, I’m planting a seed and I understand that my responsibility is to plant the seed, making it grow is on God. He asked me to go out and plant the seed. That’s all I have to do. My job is to be out there, be available and try not to let, I don’t want to get to preachy on you but I don’t want to let the enemy win. I’ve been given a mission. This is what I want to do. I can’t let the frustration stop me from doing it.

Yeah, sometimes it gets tough. Sometime I go away from the Urban league angry because I don’t think I’m getting through. Then I’ve got people like Justice Smith who follows me around on town, calls me on the weekends, “Hey, Mr. Phil what are you doing?”  I’m trying to figure out what’s an 11-year-old boy want to hang around with a 60-year-old man (for). We do things, we go fishing, we go shooting archery, we shoot BB guns. He comes to my house where I have a race track setup. We do things, the things that he wouldn’t normally get to do and I think it’s a joy, I enjoy it.  I like having the time to spend with young men. Trying to get them to understand that life’s got a plan for them and I’d rather them take advantage of the positives as opposed to get caught up in the negatives.

I have a theory that if I get you to go camping with me once, you’ll be hooked for life. Most of these kids have never seen anything but asphalt and concrete. You get them out in the wilderness and when they look up in the sky and see all the stars in the middle of the night and sleeping on the tent that they put up, cooking meals that they cooked. Getting on a boat and they paddle it across the lake, they learn how to swim, they learn how to do different skills. It blows their mind. Once you get them and like with me once I took that first camping trip I was hooked for life.

HACKLEY: I haven’t seen a major presence of the Boy Scouts in the innercity. I guess that’s what you’re hoping to change.

FERGUSON: For me, it’s a little disheartening when you go to a lot of Scout functions and you look around the room and you can count the people of color of any color on one hand. That’s usually in Fort Wayne where it’s predominantly white. I won’t call it institutional, but they’re taking advantage of a program that’s over a 100 years old and my job is as outreach coordinator, is to try to take the program and get the enthusiasm into our community.  In areas where we were not reaching, and try to figure out what is it going to take to get to have our boys take advantage of a programs that have been proven, has a track record proving, we have presidents, we have astronauts, we have police chiefs that have all come to the program. Corporation presidents, you name it, they are there. Colin Powell, boy scout, Gerald Ford boy scout. There are several individual that are in major corporations, in the military, in government that came through  the boy scouts and it’s a valued organization.

HACKLEY: What I’ve noticed is, a lot of times it takes younger people to explain things from their perspective to attract other younger people.

FERGUSON: Well, yeah, and I would agree with you because I know in the outreach program like I told before, I’m 60 years old and there’s, between me and an 11-year-old there’s 50 years. There’s some language barriers, there’s some, I don’t know, they talk a different language, they do different things. I try to hire a program aid is what they call it, maybe someone in his 18 to 20 year range that can relate closer to the younger guys. I feed into him, he feeds into the younger boys. But when that doesn’t happen I’ve got to step in and try to fill the gap.

HACKLEY: Obviously, you’re communicating from the heart, that’s probably why you can deal with all types of issues that you’re dealing with?

FERGUSON: That has to come from the heart. Without the drive, without the passion for it, you’d burn out in a week.

HACKLEY: What do you say to a parent, the first time that you meet one about why they would want to have their kid involved?  What do you tell them succinctly?

FERGUSON: Oh, wow, that’s a good question because it varies from kid to kid and situation. It depends on the kid. Is the kid doing well, then let’s improve him. If the kids is struggling let’s teach him some values. Let’s teach him some responsibilities. How’s he handling his school work. Do you know that if he’s doing the scouting stuff, his school work is going to improve because he’s going to want to do his best because part of the scout oath, on my honor I would do my best, not half step, but my best.

If I can get a kid to try and do his best in anything that he’s doing, He’s going to improve all over. If I can get a kid wanting to go out and do things besides sit at home and watch TV and play on video games, he’s going to improve all over.

Basketball coaches, football coaches, you name it, agree if they’re doing their best they succeed everywhere. The values that they learn in scouting will transcend anything that they do. Whether it’s school, whether it’s work, whether it’s planning a sport, if you’re doing your best, you can’t go wrong.

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Category: Community, Features, Local, People

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at hackonomicstv@gmail.com.

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