Thomas Gajewski Jr. spent 16 years in the Boy Scouts, starting as a Tiger Scout before eventually becoming an assistant scout master at age 18. He credits the organization with giving him the leadership skills, independence, and “a certain grit or toughness” that has served him well both in his finance career and as a father of two.
So when he heard that President Trump bashed everything from fake news to former President Obama to Hillary Clinton in a controversial speech Monday at the Boy Scouts of America’s national Jamboree, he wasn’t happy.
“I’m an Eagle Scout myself but I find myself conflicted a lot. Today more than ever,” Gajewski, 33, of Wyomissing, Pa. tweeted to his 44 followers Monday night, adding: “It kills me because the organization can be so beneficial and the life lessons I learned I wouldn’t give up. But this crap makes it hard.”
Then he went to bed.
That said, I still hope the national org says something!’
— Aaron (@asreese) July 25, 2017
When Gajewski awoke Tuesday morning, his opinions had been retweeted more than 1,300 times — a sign of the unrest that roiled the Boy Scouts community nationally since Trump’s talk.
“It alienates half the population,” Gajewski said, of a speech he likened to “a campaign rally.”
The Boy Scouts of America apparently shared that worry. Less than 12 hours after Trump finished talking to a crowd of 40,000 gathered in West Virginia for the Boy Scouts Jamboree, the group issued a statement reminding the world that they are “wholly nonpartisan” and “does not promote any one … political candidate or philosophy.”
JUST IN: Boy Scouts release statement after backlash to President Trump’s speech at national jamboree pic.twitter.com/ECus8BLHgB
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 25, 2017
But Gajewski and others complained that statement wasn’t a strong enough rebuke.
“I’d like to see some ownership from Boys Scouts of America that this is not who we are. We are a good community that is inclusive,” Gajewski said.
Mark Chilutti agreed: “Former presidents have talked about the important role that Boy Scouts play, that leadership plays, that their service that they do as young people that continues into their lives as adults, the impact that that makes on our country and that’s significant. I think it was a missed opportunity. There certainly were some little bits and pieces of that in the president’s conversation last night, but unfortunately it disappeared too far away from really the great things that scouting is all about.”
Chilutti, a resident of Philadelphia’s Somerton neighborhood and scout since the age of 8 who still volunteers with the group, will speak at the Jamboree Wednesday morning as a “Very Inspirational Presenter.”
He survived being hit by a drunk driver when he was just 19. The accident left him with broken bones and a traumatic brain injury, only to get shot eight years later during a robbery at a jewelry store he owned. That incident left him with a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the chest down.”
His speech, he said, will include the sentiments he wishes Trump conveyed.
“You can’t always be prepared for what’s going to happen,” he said, of the message he will deliver in his speech. “What you can be prepared for is what comes next. The values that scouting teaches — the goal-setting, the perseverance, the different challenges that everybody works through to become an Eagle Scout — those truly are going to help you throughout your entire life.”
A local Boy Scouts chapter, the Wayne-based Cradle of Liberty Council, released this statement on Trump’s speech:
“The Cradle of Liberty Council, Boy Scouts of America has a longstanding tradition of upholding the values set forth by the scout oath and law. These values guide us each day as we shape the lives of the more than 16,500 youth we serve in Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery counties. Instilling a sense of citizenship in young people within our reach is at the core of scouting’s mission. To that end, for the past 80 years, the Boy Scouts of America has embraced a tradition of inviting the current President of the United States to speak at the National Scout Jamboree, regardless of political affiliation. The purpose of the 2017 Jamboree is to uplift and empower the 40,000 youth gathered for 10 days of building character, leadership, outdoor skills, and friendships. The Boy Scouts of America and the Cradle of Liberty Council are non-partisan, apolitical organizations that focus on positive youth development. We stress the character traits embodied in the scout law and the conduct embedded in the scout oath. We also embrace the importance of civility and respect in daily life. The Cradle of Liberty Council does not endorse any political party, point of view or policies and apologizes to any members, volunteers or charter partners in any way offended by the President’s remarks.”