DOVER — A total of only 4% of Boy Scouts of America’s current population of 2.2 million members will ever completely commit themselves to reach the status of Eagle Scout.
And when it comes to Black Boy Scouts achieving that milestone, it’s even rarer, as that group has made up only 8.9% of the 2.5 million youth who have earned Eagle Scout since its inception in 1911.
But Me’Lik S. Purnell, a 16-year-old from Dover, overcame those long odds, earning Eagle Scout status after he oversaw an ambitious community library project.
It was a lifelong dream.
“I am very honored and proud to reach the rank of Eagle Scout,” Me’Lik said. “It took a long time to reach this achievement, and it was all worth it.”
The Polytech High School 11th grader officially became an Eagle Scout on May 20, while his ceremony was held Oct. 24.
Me’Lik’s journey in the Boy Scouts began at age 5. He realizes he faced unique challenges to reach one of his life goals, but it’s not something he dwells on.
“I don’t think many realize that the percentage (of Black Eagle Scouts) is so low, but if you tell anyone, I would doubt they would be surprised,” he said. “Boy Scouts is not really the norm for African American children, and it’s not heavily pushed on us, as athletics is.
“Another thing is, when you do start to participate in Boy Scouts and don’t see many ... people like you, that can also discourage you. I don’t really look into numbers, but anything I do or achieve is a special satisfaction to me.”
Me’Lik is an avid reader and figured that incorporating something he enjoys into his Eagle Scout project made perfect sense.
That’s what led to his decision to guide a team of scouts who installed library boxes throughout Dover, at New Street Park, Saulsbury Road Park and Mayfair Park, so that everyone could get a chance to dive into a good book.
“It was the community libraries that led to my Eagle Scout,” Me’Lik said. “That was basically the cherry on top, after completing each of the rank requirements and merit badges.
“I never imagined the two (reading and scouts) would go hand in hand towards a great achievement. My love for reading came from reading Dr. Seuss books every night as a child, which spiraled into many other great books.”
So he figured, why not make it possible to give other children the chance to discover a love of reading and books?
“I just felt like not everyone has an opportunity to go to the library and check out books to read,” he said. “Plus, these books don’t have a due date, and you can keep them as long as you want. Reading is an activity that is great for the mind, body and soul, and I believe that everyone should have an opportunity to read.”
Me’Lik said the project took some time, delayed by restrictions due to COVID-19, but he is proud of the work his team was able to complete.
“The reactions were great, … only compliments from them,” he said. “It’s even hard to keep them filled with books.”
Dover City Councilman Fred Neil said he is impressed by the impact Me’Lik left on several parks around the capital city.
“Young Mr. Purnell, building small, easily accessible libraries in city parks for the public falls under the category of what makes Dover strong,” Councilman Neil said. “He didn’t just build libraries. He built imagination, education and entertainment centers that books bring to their readers. He created a gift to the public with his time and talent, which, if he continues, should indicate a future leader for our nation.”
Requirements to become an Eagle Scout include earning at least 21 merit badges.
An Eagle Scout also must demonstrate “Scout Spirit,” an ideal attitude based upon the Scout Oath and Law, service and leadership. This includes an extensive service project that the scout plans, organizes and manages — just like Me’Lik’s community library initiative.
“Me’Lik started this journey at age 5, when he joined Cub Scouts, and then, after receiving his Arrow of Light, he joined Troop 903 Boy Scouts in 2016,” said his mother, Maretta Savage-Purnell. “In addition to being a Boy Scout, he is involved in other programs, such as EMBODI and Young Achievers. Me’Lik is an honor roll student and a member of Calvary Baptist Church.”
Her son said there’s not one certain person who has been a major influence in his life.
“I couldn’t just name one person,” he said. “I think the famous phrase, ‘It takes a village,’ pertains to me, and everyone has been my inspiration and mentor.”
Me’Lik also keeps his goals relatively simple: “My biggest ambition is to make tons of money and be happy,” he said with a laugh.