By J. Coyden Palmer
History has been made in Gary as Kendall Jackson, a senior at Lake Central High School was recently announced as the first African American female to attain the rank of Eagle Scout. The trailblazing future Howard University student, joins 20 other females from around the country to attain the Boy Scouts of America’s highest ranking. The BSA began admitting females to their ranks just two years ago in a controversial move. Jackson was joined by fellow troop members Jayden Johnson and Christian Gray in receiving the honor.
Jackson, who is a member of Troop 53 at St. Timothy Community Church, was previously a member of the Girl Scouts and the Venture Scouts. When the opportunity arose for her to join the Boy Scouts, she was excited and jumped at the opportunity.
A minimum of 21 merit badges are required to attain the Eagle rank. In addition to earning merit badges, an Eagle Scout is required to serve in leadership positions as well. Jackson served as the Senior Patrol Leader.
The main challenge for all scouts is the Eagle Scout project. It is a community service project that must be approved by the troop committee and on the district level. Jackson’s project was called “Project 21.” It involved 21 seniors from the class of 2021 attending a day of workshops, presentations and panels. It provided attendees with information and resources to trades, the military and other options for those who are not interested in attending college.
“A lot of the youth really appreciated the project. I also gave them a [Project] 21-guide resource book that was filled with information,” Jackson said.
Of the 39 merit badges Jackson earned, she said her favorite was the Traffic Safety one. She said the course was taught by a police officer and she learned things she never had before. She said the merit badge also prepared her to get her driver’s license.
Jackson said she plans on staying active in the troop until she leaves for college in the fall. She said once she is at Howard, she will look to work with a troop in that area. In addition to earning the Eagle rank, Jackson can also earn palms, which she plans to do. Palms are given when an Eagle Scout earns additional merit badges, of which Jackson already has, in addition to serving more time in the troop.
Johnson also was an overachieving scout during his career. He has earned 47 merit badges.
“It was hard but I wanted to leave a mark in my troop,” said Johnson, who has been in scouting programs since he was five.
Now 17, he attends West Side Leadership Academy in Gary. Johnson said the merit badge that stood out the most to him was Citizenship in the Nation because he said while he enjoys helping his community, that particular merit badge is on a wider scale.
For his Eagle Scout project, Johnson collected 535 pairs of glasses with the intent of distributing them to people in need. But due to the COVID pandemic, he was unable to do that, so he enlisted the assistance of the ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. who helped get the glasses distributed through a partnership with Walmart.
Johnson said the thing he has learned the most from his scouting experience has been learning leadership qualities. He said he entered scouting as a quiet child, but since being in the troop, it is an extended family. His fondest memory is attending Camp Frontier in Ohio.
“I tell people it prepares you for life. You get to connect more with people your age and you get to learn a lot more than what school teaches you,” Johnson said. “I’m going to still be an adventure scout and I plan on volunteering to work with the Cub Scout Pack 53.”
Johnson wants to become an actor and is hoping to attend either Morehouse College or UCLA. His mother Shawnta Scott said her son was always hanging around the older scouts and determined to make the Eagle rank. She said she supported her son by searching online to find merit badge clinics and getting him to the clinics. She said scouting is very important for young Black boys in 2021.
“Once he got interested, I got interested too,” said Scott, who serves as a Den Mother for the local Cub Scout pack. “I also really love camping and I think it is important for inner-city kids to get out in the wilderness and learn about nature.”
Scoutmaster Kellauna Mack, has been leading the troop for the past 22 years. She is also Eagle Scout Jackson’s mother. The Scouting program has been at the church for over 60 years. Scoutmaster Mack initially got involved in scouting when her older son got involved as well. He also is an Eagle Scout.
“They sucked me in and told me I would only have to do an hour a week and that turned out not to be true,” she said with a laugh. “All of the other scouting programs have been co-ed for the past 30 years, so it was just natural for all of the other programs to become co-ed.”
Mack said the key to the troop’s survival is making scouting fun and relevant for today’s youth. In addition to doing traditional things like hiking and camping, the troop also has done trips to places like Niagara Falls, learning how to do financial literacy and they try to go out of the country once a year.
“I’m just as pleased as punch. I tell them all the time it’s not just to reach the Eagle rank, it’s to put everything into what you are trying to accomplish,” Mack said.