The St. Louis community can change the path that is leading our young men to prison, to the graveyard or to a life of underachievement, said James Clark, vice president of community outreach for Better Family Life, Inc.
“When you look at all the statistics, we have almost become numbed with analysis,” Clark said. “We know that the problem exists. We know who are the most vulnerable. The Boy Scouts are the best equipped and prepared to go into the heart of the urban core and give our young men what they need.”
In January, the St. Louis Area Council Boys Scouts of America appointed Clark to be its district commissioner. Last week, Keith Antone Willis, publisher of Who’s Who in Black St. Louis, became the new district chairman for the Boy Scouts. Together the two are working on a “new thrust” for the city of St. Louis.
Their first order of business is recruit 100 volunteers by Father’s Day.
“We’ve been working with Better Family Life since this summer,” said David Pettiford, district director of the St. Louis Area Council Boys Scouts of America. “Our young men are at a critical stage of development, and they need intervention to keep them from harm’s way. We have agreed that the Boy Scouts program is the vehicle to do that.”
Pettiford said the Boys Scouts organization itself is 101 years old. Throughout its history, the program has been more attentive to African-American young men at certain times than others, he said. However, the organization has always aimed to help boys transition into men.
“We are looking for individuals from all races, both genders, from all social and social and economic backgrounds,” Clark said. “We understand that everyone can help with this initiative.”
The Boys Scouts has a working presence in the urban core, but there is a strong need to energize what is currently there, Clark said. He points to a single mother who has already had one son murdered and another son put in prison.
“She is looking at her 12-year-old son who is already repeating that behavior,” Clark said. “That’s why the Boys Scouts is so important. We are looking to work with the clergy and we are looking to do effective neighborhood engagement and recruitment. We are excited about this opportunity to change the tide for the children in some of our more crime-ridden neighborhoods.”
Willis was the former executive director of St. Paul Saturdays, a black male leadership program founded at St. Paul AME Church in North St. Louis, and the executive director of Mentor St. Louis. For three years, he was the executive director of the Emerson Park Development Corporation and responsible for the daily operations for a $1.7 million dollar annual budget for Emerson Charter School. He was a Boy Scout himself, and his mother was a den leader. His sons were both in Boys Scouts.
Before joining the Better Family Life staff in 1997, Clark served as an administrative assistant to the first African-American mayor of the city of St. Louis, where he developed initiatives that provided employment, educational, and recreational opportunities for inner-city youth. He’s also been recognized for implementing role model programs in both the St. Louis Public Schools and St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center.
“Putting Keith and I together is a unique opportunity,” Clark said.
“It’s about saving our sons,” Pettiford said.
The council invites all those interested in volunteering to attend meetings on the second Wednesday of every month. The next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 11 at 4568 West Pine Blvd. Volunteers must be 21 and older. For more information about volunteering, call David Pettiford at the Boy Scouts’ office 314-361-0600.