By: Ramone Penister, state counselor
“America. America. Let us tell you how we feel. You have given us your spirit; we love you so.” These are words sung in unison by the delegates in my county as we waited to check out and receive our certificates and lapel pins. As we stood in Bernard Hall on that Friday, I was filled with emotions that I couldn’t explain. Is this really over? I had just spent a week with some of the most unique students in the State of Arkansas. We started the week as strangers and now I have 20 new phone numbers and 50 friend requests on Facebook.
During the week, I remember fighting my sleep in Old Main, sharing my thoughts in leadership discussion, and holding conversations with guys that I didn’t really know. As I drove away from UCA on the last day, I had a smile on my face and thought about the new brothers that I just made. For the next couple of years, I would run into people at sporting events, stores, restaurants, and college. Every time I saw someone, we’d look at each other, smile, and say, “Boys State?”. After responding with a nod; a genuine, warm, and inimitable conversation would always follow.
Today, I maintain contact with about four people from my 2009 delegate year. One is playing professional basketball in Africa, two are finishing with law school and also work with the ARBS program, and another is in the military.
While the relationships made as a delegate are unique, the experiences multiply as a counselor with the program. Every year, my family grows with new brothers. I wish that I could count the ball games, band concerts, and graduations that I’ve attended in the last eight years.
In addition to the delegates, the counselor staff also becomes family. Ja’von Long is one of the many counselors with the program that has become a great friend. We’ve traveled, attended sporting events, and comedy venues together. If we are in the same town, we will do our best to meet up for lunch or dinner. No matter when we call or text each other, we will make time to answer or respond.
Ultimately, I don’t know if it’s possible to describe the brotherhood created at Arkansas Boys State. I struggle to find the words because I could share countless stories about specific relationships. To say the least, when I am asked about certain people, I am now able to say “That’s my brother and it’s all because of ARBS”.