Editor’s note: Third in a series this month celebrating Black History by honoring difference-makers in the community.
For years, Willie Mitchell has been the face of the U.S. Army at Sampson County events, bearing the flag for all veterans, here and across the world. Now he is teaching young children the importance of civic and community involvement.
A U.S. Army veteran, Mitchell for years has been omnipresent at local events, Veterans Day and Memorial Day celebrations key among them, bearing the U.S. Army colors alongside his comrades with the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. He is a member of the Sampson County Veterans Council, serving as secretary/treasurer for the organization, and is also heavily involved in the Sampson County branch of the NAACP.
His tinted glasses and the wide smile beneath it are a fixture around Clinton and Sampson County, and he has brought that leadership to the youth of the community for the last several years, fighting hardships and funding cutbacks to offer a worthwhile experience to children locally.
As Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of America’s Troop 133 in Clinton, Willie Mitchell has made it a point to bring his Scouts to the Clinton City Council in recent years and share with city officials the stories of the children who will be leading this community one day. He eschews any credit, rather speaking of his gratitude for being a small part of it. He praises the many parents, adult leaders and others who are spending their time ensuring that young volunteerism, patriotism and civic-mindedness is nurtured.
The troop, originated under Dr. Rodney Sessoms, Omega Psi Fraternity, Inc., is sponsored by Dr. Ted Thomas and the Rev. Gerald Underwood of Andrews Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.
“Since I was (at the Council meeting) last year, our Scout group has made an impact and accomplished a lot,” said Mitchell. “We added several Scouts to our organization. We have a total of 15 Cub Scouts and three Boy Scouts.”
Those who haven’t seen Mitchell himself, they may have seen a Scout or two under his charge. Mitchell ensures they make the rounds.
“Besides the regular activites we do on a regular basis, we have done other things,” he said. “Just to name a few, we have participated in the Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies, and we have participated in all the annual Christmas parades. We do community and church cleanup projects and we also do camping activities at Camp Tuscarora.”
While Mitchell and others try to keep the Scouts as active as possible, limited funds sometimes mean the activities and outreach can only stretch so far. He encourage any and everyone to contribute to the cause.
Seth Bartosik, district executive for the Tuscarora Council’s Coharie district (Sampson and Duplin), met Mitchell about two years ago.
“I was a brand new professional scouter and I was eager to make a difference in the lives of youth in Sampson and Duplin County,” Bartosik recalled. “Willie shared the same vision.”
For a time, Clinton City Schools’ had an after-school program called Blazing Stars, under whose umbrella there was a Scouts program. That program allowed some underprivileged youth who may not have been afforded the experience, the chance to be a part of the Scouts.
Mitchell began Pack and Troop 133 in March 2016, gathering several youngsters from the Blazing Stars program along with several children of family and friends in the community to form a more traditional unit.
“Unfortunately, with some national cuts in spending to education, Blazing Stars is no more. However, Willie’s unit continues to push onward,” said Bartosik said. “With the help of the Council, Willie has been able to organize efforts to help serve 25 youth as of 2017 and there are now 18 who are active.”
Mitchell has been able to keep the troop active, attending various district events and camps, while maintaining the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) registration. Underprivileged or not, the children who have been part of Mitchell’s troop have been a part of something special, Bartosik said.
“I applaud him for his service to youth in our communities and it’s been a pleasure to serve with him,” said Bartosik. “I’m happy to have known him.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.