TUPELO – Actor and Mississippian Morgan Freeman added another feather to his already full cap Friday night as he accepted the Yocona Area Council of Boy Scouts’ Distinguished Citizen Award.
The award recognizes Mississippians who have made a positive impact on a national and even global stage, but have never forgotten their roots in Mississippi.
“And I got roots,” Freeman said.
Freeman’s ancestors are buried throughout the state. Though he was born in Memphis, he soon moved to Charleston. He credited his acting career to his time in Mississippi, acting in his first play at age 8 in Bruce, then receiving his first best actor award in Brookhaven at age 12. Freeman spoke to the crowd at the Distinguished Citizen Dinner about turning down acting scholarships to Jackson State and Tougaloo Universities to become a fighter pilot, a dream sparked from seeing films about World War II.
“Me and the rigidity of personhood didn’t fit well,” Freeman said. “The military was too military, but I was going to do it anyway. Then I had an epiphany in the cockpit: this won’t work unless there’s a camera here.”
In addition to a prestigious filmography, Freeman did eventually learn to fly, sail, ride horses and play golf. He said he learned plenty along the way and enjoys imparting wisdom to youngsters.
“Golf is a great metaphor for life. You can improve, but you’ll never be perfect. In a good round, you may hit three exceptional shots,” he said. “I talk to young people all the time, especially those who want to be actors. I tell them first of all, you don’t want to be an actor, you are one. And I tell them there is one sure way to fail in this life, and that is to quit.”
Greg Burks, who works with the council, said the 90-year-old council is in good hands under the leadership of its president, Renasant Bank president Mitch Waycaster.
Burks said in 2015, the Yocona Area has seen balanced growth in all its operations, including membership, community service hours, and camp attendance. In 2015, 56 boys gained the distinction of Eagle Scout. The Yocona Area is a partner organization with the United Way, and though giving to the United Way has gone down, donations to Scouting have gone up. Last year, the Yocona Area took no money from the Boy Scouts national office.
“We certainly have a legacy to be proud of,” Burks said.
The program also honored the late Jack Reed Sr., who spent 60 years involved with Scouting in Northeast Mississippi.
“When I moved back at age 25, he said you can get involved with anything you want to,” said Jack Reed Jr. “But he said the best people in Northeast Mississippi to get involved with is the Yocona Area Council.”