With the Boy Scouts of America celebrating its 100th anniversary next year, the future of the scouting movement remains uncertain. Membership peaked in the 1970s, and the Boy Scouts have seen a 10 percent drop in enrollment during the last decade.
But a new documentary is set to make its Washington, D.C., premiere at 5:30 tonight at the Capitol Visitor Center. The film celebrates the continued relevance of the Boy Scouts in a more diverse and more urban America.
“759: The Boy Scouts of Harlem— chronicles the Harlem-based troop’s journey to Camp Keowa in Narrowsburg, N.Y. Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the film examines the positive effect that scouting has on the lives of these boys and how scouting can cross geographical, cultural and racial barriers.
According to co-director and producer (and Eagle Scout) Justin Szlasa, the idea for the film came from a visit to the camp, which services the New York City scouting organizations. “I saw that it was almost exactly the same as the camp I went to in upstate New York, except the people populating it were all from New York City,— he said.
As for how he and co-director Jake Boritt selected Troop 759, Szlasa said, “Part of it was it was just such an interesting group of people that we met.— He added, “Each of them had a story; we were welcomed in and we wanted to tell it.—
Troop 759 scoutmaster Okpoti Sowah is a Ghanaian-American immigrant with a long involvement in scouts, while assistant scoutmaster Ann Dozier is the mother of one of the boys. In addition to the two adults, the film also focuses on four of the young scouts.
“I went to college in Baltimore, and it was so upsetting to me to see the lack of opportunity there,— Szlasa said. In the Boy Scouts, however, “there’s a leadership structure and there’s a mentorship system,— he said. “It addresses the need of boys for male role models.—
The film, which is Szlasa’s first, premiered in March in Harlem and is scheduled for a spring broadcast by Maryland Public Television.
Preceding the film screening, Nelson and Sessions will offer brief remarks, along with two officials from the Boy Scouts of America and the National Capital Area Council.
For more information on the documentary, visit www.harlemscouts.com.