The seeds of Aulston Taylor’s success in business were planted during his years at New Orleans’ famed St. Augustine High School—and once they had borne fruit, he left a successful career to go back there and help other young men develop so that they can reach higher too.
Taylor decided to leave a high-paying gig in New York with BET Networks after being named New Business Salesperson of the Year for 2018. “I took a long, hard look at the award and I said, ‘I’ve been validated,’” he recalls. “Maybe it’s time for me to move on.” He realized he had “been given everything I needed to go back home and fly.”
The driving force behind that move was an abiding appreciation for how his time at St. Augustine, the only all-male, African American, private Catholic high school in the country, had been so influential in his life.
Nor has his success been unusual. The school, which celebrated its 70th anniversary last year, has produced more than 150 Ivy League graduates and more than 70 pro athletes in the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball. Then there’s its musical profile: there were four alumni among the 2021 Grammy Awards nominees—Jon Batiste, Luke James, P.J. Norton and Jay Electronica (Timothy Thedford, while he was a student).
The school has been an incubator for both “nerds and jocks,” Taylor notes. “You have that across a melting pot of one race, one gender and myriad socioeconomic backgrounds within one Black family… how can you not see something special because it’s doing so much for the community?” It’s a cult, he says with a smile, because “we indoctrinate young men into this culture of winning, being fiercely competitive and knowing that you can rule the world if you put your mind to it. And so we push that down into them every single day.”
St. Augustine may be best known for its self-dubbed “Best Band in the Land.” The Marching 100 was the first African American high school band to take part in the celebrated Rex Parade during Mardi Gras, and has performed for presidents, a Pope and in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was the subject of a major 60 Minutes segment aired twice on CBS last year.
Rigor and discipline
The Marching 100 is “a very, very, very important part of our success as a school,” says Taylor. “But, more importantly that brand is one that has given so many men the opportunity to go do greater things in life, not in music but just as a young professional, because of that rigor and that discipline that they learn inside the band.”
If ever he’s having a hard day, Taylor goes over to the band room to look in. “They get me right every time, because the moment I hear that great energy in those young men, looking like a sea of leadership, it just validates for me that ‘what you’ve got over there in that office is all for them, so keep going.’”
As a kid, Taylor wasn’t taken with the idea of attending an all-boys school because it meant there were no opportunities to meet girls. But he soon discovered a work ethic, not only through the faculty but through his family, who sacrificed to make it possible for him to be able to go.
His mother worked two-and-a-half jobs to help meet the tuition fees, with his godmother also kicking in support. But he still needed to work in the cafeteria and help with janitorial work through the school’s work-study program to make up the balance. “So as a little ninth grader, I understood the sacrifice that people were making for me, and then I also understood the culture that the school represented was a winning culture, a disciplined culture and a culture that showcases that young Black men can do anything they want.”
Not that it was all plain sailing afterward. Graduating from Texas Southern University with a business degree, Taylor landed a job in New York at ESPN but found himself on probation after too many late nights socializing (“head down on the desk, about to fall asleep”).
He was taken aside by a senior colleague, Wendell Scott, now a senior vice president for sales at The Walt Disney Company. “He had the hardest talk with me that I possibly could ever have had,” Taylor remembers appreciatively. “And he said, ‘This is your plan that you’re going to follow to make sure that you become successful.’ He gave me his all. I gave him my all. I came off a probation… and I made a way to make sure that I would pave the way for the next person that comes behind me, that they wouldn’t make the mistakes that I made.”
Energy and desire
Taylor has been paying it forward one way or another ever since. Before leaving his New York business career to return to Louisiana, Taylor established a scholarship fund for St. Augustine in 2014. Arriving back at the school as chief development officer, and helping raise millions of dollars for development projects, he has been appointed president and CEO.
“My whole being here today is I want to be the person that I needed when I was a student here. I want to be that person that I needed when I was that 14- to 17-year-old young man,” he says. “I’m not saying that no one didn’t help me back, but I know I have the ability and the relationships and the resources to give these young men more than what I received when I was a student here.
“That’s what makes the place special. It is a brotherhood that is undeniable, but it’s also an internal energy and this burning desire to be a part of something special that can’t be found nowhere else on the planet, especially for young Black men.”
Taylor speaks appreciatively in particular of two priests who made an impact on him when he was a student at St. Augustine. Father Joseph Doyle was the school president, and “a source of good energy for me. He was a quiet giant; he didn’t speak a lot, but he was effective.” Then there was Father Matthew O’Rourke, who had been the first principal at the school, but who Taylor did not meet until he was 89.
“He poured into me the vision of what St. Augustine was for, he poured into me how it needs to be able to continue to be the beacon of hope for Black kids in the city of New Orleans… he shared with me many of his principles and great moments on how I would be able to be successful in my role here at the school if I ever was to come back.” Both men, he says, now “are in heaven, steering my hand and making sure that the school continues to be successful while I’m in this seat.”
Though he finds great reward in his role, there has been a cost. He had to weigh not only a drop in income, but leaving New York, where he “loved to be a competitor,” for a different leadership situation: “I won’t have many people to look up to that can pour into me, whereas I would be the person that had to pour into many others.”
But the reward has been worth it, helping “make sure that these young men are ready and prepared for the world when they leave.”
From an interview with Louis Carr