Mikaeel Martinez Jaka, a Life Scout from Virginia, received the World Organization of the Scout Movement’s prestigious Messengers of Peace Heroes Award last month, becoming just the fifth American to be honored with the award in its history.
Mikaeel and Scouts from 10 other countries received their awards on Sept. 21 — the International Day of Peace — at a special ceremony at the United Nations in New York.
Messengers of Peace Heroes are Scouts and adults who do outstanding work to improve their communities, build peace and create a better world. The 2018 honorees include a Scout from Cameroon who raised awareness about seniors living with leprosy, a Scout from Mexico who is working to keep young people safe online and a Scout from Ukraine who helped displaced young people feel a sense of belonging.
The work for which the BSA’s Mikaeel was honored is equally impressive.
Mikaeel, 17, is a member of Troop 163 of Purcellville, Va., and Venturing Crew 786, chartered to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society.
He’s a fourth-generation Muslim American and says he’s “proud to be American and proud to be Muslim.”
Ever since he was little, Mikaeel has volunteered at interfaith community service projects. He knows that we’re stronger united, not divided, and has teamed up with Scouts of different faiths to serve those who are less fortunate.
Two years ago, an African-American school in Mikaeel’s community was vandalized. Once again, Mikaeel stepped up. The group of volunteers included an inspiring array of faiths: Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Baha’i.
While working on this project, Mikaeel learned about the Loudoun Freedom Center and its work to preserve the African American Burial Ground for the Enslaved at Belmont.
For his Eagle Scout service project, Mikaeel created a 400-foot walking trail at the burial ground.
This was no mere dirt path. The gravel trail is bordered by wood on both sides — meaning Mikaeel and his volunteers had to place 800 feet of boards in addition to the 16 tons of gravel.
For this extreme effort, Mikaeel recruited more than 100 volunteers who worked over five days. The group included people of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu faiths working together.
Donors stepped up, too. One gave $2,000 of the $6,000 Mikaeel needed to raise. The donor included this note: “My ancestors were slave traders in Loudoun. I wish to make reparations.”
“Thanks to the multifaith and racially diverse group of people, representing America’s beauty, we constructed the trail to honor the enslaved Africans that helped build America,” Mikaeel says. “And visitors now have access to the burial ground to pay their respects.”
When you visit Mikaeel’s Eagle project, the teenager hopes you’ll take away a message.
As people walk through the burial ground, Mikaeel wants them to remember America’s past and those who “sacrificed everything to build the United States of America.”
“People will be able to walk along the trail, see all of this rich history — American history — that we all need to remember and definitely talk about more,” he says.
Mikaeel’s visit to New York
During their visit, Mikaeel and the other Messengers of Peace Heroes Award recipients met U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. Guterres saluted the contribution of Scouts worldwide, saying Scouting contributes more to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals than any other single organization.
To that end, Guterres recognized the World Organization of the Scout Movement’s 1.1 billion hours of service recorded since 2012.
Ahmad Alhendawi, Secretary-General of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, pledged to add another 3 billion hours through the Messengers of Peace Initiative.
For more about Mikaeel and the 2018 honorees, watch this video: