15 February, 2023
Throughout a person’s lifetime, they can expect to achieve many successes or awards for various accomplishments. Some manage to round up a vast number of these achievements. Fewer still manage it in such a short time frame. There are few that can say they’ve reached success like James Obasiolu, a sophomore at Atholton with big achievements and even bigger dreams.
Everything Obasiolu does revolves around community. He is an outstanding cellist of the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra, and a six-time recipient of the Certificate of Achievement from the Council of Elders of the Black Community of Howard County. He has been nominated for the Congressional Award Gold Medal and is scheduled to receive it in August of this year. Last year, Obasiolu won second place in the Martin Luther King, Jr. “Living the Dream” essay contest, which honors and recognizes students who represent the MLK legacy. Here at Atholton, Obasiolu was selected by JROTC Battalion Leadership as Cadet of the Quarter. He currently serves as a Student Member of the Howard County Environmental Sustainability Board, and as a member of the HCPSS LGBTQIA+ Advisory Committee. Most importantly, he is an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America program.
Obasiolu’s work has paid off, as he recently wrapped up his mission to earn all 139 merit badges in the Boy Scouts program.
According to Obasiolu, “Boy Scouts earn merit badges for each area of study they invest time in.” There are currently 139, though the number of badges changes occasionally, and less than 0.5% of all Boy Scouts earn all of them. As of February 2023, there are roughly 520 Scouts that have achieved this. There are badges for scuba diving, nuclear science, disabilities awareness, and even veterinary medicine.
The process of achieving each merit badge is different. “Since most of my progress was during the pandemic, I had a lot of worksheets to fill out,” remarked Obasiolu. “If it’s something like the Fire Safety badge, I might go out to an actual fire station and talk with the people there and learn about different fire trucks.”
Though the prospect is enticing, it’s no easy feat. “The biggest challenge was staying focused. I struggled with a lot of stress and frustration along the way, since a lot of people are having fun and playing video games, and when you hear that someone achieved this, it’s like, ‘How is that possible?’”
Though Scouting remains an active part of Obasiolu’s commitments, his biggest passion is environmental justice. “I frequently travel, and I see the conditions in other countries and how fortunate we are to even have an environmental literacy or climate change justice program here in Howard County,” he noted. “Right now, we’re drafting what looks to be the biggest piece of climate change legislation in Howard County,” said Obasiolu. “We’re 21 or 22 years out, and we need to reach zero net emissions, so we’ve been drafting this proposal and working with local groups and firms.”
It’s clear that one of his biggest ambitions is “Stopping [climate injustice] and doing my part, because I know that it won’t just be—snap!—in my lifetime.”
Howard County is already ahead of the curve when it comes to climate action—“The Howard County Executive signed a document saying that it was Howard County’s goal to reach zero net emissions by 2045,” he explained. “Some counties with less strict environmental regulations might’ve planned for 2070, and that’s a lot of time.”
If you were to ask James what he is most grateful for, it wouldn’t be badges or certificates; “I’m so grateful that I can live another day.” As a first-generation immigrant born in China, Obasiolu is no stranger to opportunity. “The biggest challenge is building roots. Lots of people in my situation don’t get the opportunity to access these programs, get good grades, and build connections. I just feel so grateful for the people that have been around me.”
When it comes to his current plans, James says it’s “all about the future”.
“One quote that I’ve been looking at lately is, ‘Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom,’ by George Washington Carver. The more you know, the more doors you have access to. For many Black Americans, it’s about getting access to education. Nowadays, it’s all about self-improvement, and thinking about what you can do to make the world around you better than it was yesterday.”