St. James Episcopal Church’s Boy Scout Troop 212 is gearing up for something special. Up to five members will receive the designation Eagle Scout on Feb. 25. This troop, which is one of the top Eagle Scout-producing troops in the state, is led by longtime scoutmaster Lionel Jellins.
Jellins, who is 67 years young, has been involved in scouting since 1978, guiding 11 – 17-yr-olds as Troop 212’s scoutmaster for nearly 20 years, spoke with the Defender about his introduction to scouting and Houston’s current Black scouting scene.
DEFENDER: How do you describe your participation in scouting?
JELLINS: It’s been a career. It’s been a life commitment for me, and I certainly enjoy it. I’ve been working with scouts for about 45 years. I’ve been scout master of this particular troop at St. James Episcopal for about 18 or 19 years. During that time, I’ve had 36 scouts actually reach the rank of Eagle Scout, which is a big deal. That’s a lot of scouts. We’re one of the two or three largest scout-producing troops in the city.
DEFENDER: Have you always been at St. James?
JELLINS: I was an assistant scoutmaster at Wheeler Avenue for a while, and my sons were in Cub Scouting there. We then went and we revived the troop over at St. James Episcopal about 18 years ago, because it had gone belly up. And since then, we’ve had a very strong program. In fact, we are always very much in competition with Wheeler on who can produce the most Eagles and the strongest program. But, we’re very blessed as a community to have both our program at St. James and the program at Wheeler to really sort of keep scouting alive in our community. Brentwood Baptist Church has a program. Windsor Village has a program, and several other larger African-American churches. So, as we talk through this whole concept of scouting, if there are any parents that are interested in putting their boys in scouting, then any of those larger churches are good.
DEFENDER: How were you first introduced to scouting?
JELLINS: Back when I was in the seventh grade in Atlanta, Georgia, they sent a circular around that said, we’ve got boy scouting available at my school, Collier Heights Elementary. The gentleman who was the scout leader, he knew nothing about scouting. We had a couple of meetings, and then the troop went belly up. I, on the other hand, I was fortunate because my parents put me in the YMC’’s camping program. We’d go camping. It was a great time. But we had barracks.
DEFENDER: Like the military?
JELLINS: We had to bounce a quarter off the blanket in the barracks. And the way in which we were camping, we had to pull everything out, wax those floors, put everything back. Even the rocks between the barracks and the latrine had to be whitewashed. Very army-like. But that’s, as a people, that’s what we knew. But across the lake, not too far away, we could see the all-white Boy Scout camp, where they were over there camping in small tents, cooking over fire, and having a wonderful time. And I’m like, “Dang; I sure wish I was over there.” But guess who couldn’t camp in those camps back in the early sixties? Us Black kids.
DEFENDER: How did that impact you?
JELLINS: I was jealous, because I really wanted to do that. Fast forward, once I graduated from Georgia Tech and started working in Baytown for Exxon, someone came by the office one day and said, “We’re really trying to help the community. There’re these Boy scouts over here. Do you want to volunteer your time and work with them?” This is 1978. I started volunteering my time right then. Volunteering gave me an opportunity to finally get out and do those things and camp and enjoy myself like I wanted in my youth. And oh, by the way, I realized, I’m actually able to do something and help our community. I’m actually going out and making a difference out here because I believe that scouting could do a lot for our communities.
DEFENDER: You mentioned that scouting in Houston had segregated or gerrymandered districts until recently, right?
JELLINS: Until 2020. And we were just fine with it because it gave us an opportunity for our other Black troops and packs to work together with each other. And it was really a community that did well over many, many years. The last five-to-10 years, however, scouting has gotten smaller in the overall community, and the African American community also, to the point that that district got a little bit too small; not enough troops to really keep it running. And as such, the council then has combined the old W.L. Davis district with a previously mostly Jewish district over in the Meyerland area. So now the new district, the Apollo District, is predominantly African American and Jewish.
DEFENDER: What would you tell a young man about the benefits of scouting in general, and the Eagle Scout journey, specifically?
JELLINS: Number one, I would tell you scouting is fun. This is not something your mama’s dragging you to on Saturday morning to do with a bunch of people you really don’t like and you don’t want to be around. This is where you can have friends who are like you and enjoy getting out and camping and doing stuff. So, you may not realize it while you’re spending this five, six or seven years in scouting that what you’re really doing is changing your ability to lead and to make a difference in the community, because it’s so much fun. So, I would tell you, first of all, getting to be Eagle Scout means you’ve spent seven years having a lot of fun, developing a lot of friends, and doing something that you may not care as a 15-year-old, but it’s going to make a difference in your future. Right now, what you care about is you get to get away and go camping once a weekend.