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spring 2022

Schooled For Success

Aulston Taylor Is Helping Young Men Learn They ‘Can Rule the World’
Written by: WayMaker Journal Team

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 lucrative 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.

The school has been a training ground 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 march in the celebrated Rex Parade during Mardi Gras, in 1967, and has performed for five presidents, a Pope, and in the Rose Bowl and Macy’s Thanksgiving Parades. It was the subject of a major 60 Minutes segment aired twice on CBS last year.

“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.”

Rigor and discipline
The Marching 100 is “a very important part of our success as a school,” says Taylor. “The Marching 100 has prepared so many men to go out into the world and do great things, not just as musicians, but as young professionals, due to the rigor and discipline that was ingrained as members in 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 and not being client-focused at work.

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 gratefully. “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 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 since been appointed president and CEO.

“My mission in being here today is that I want to be the person that I needed when I was a student,” he says. “I’m not saying that no one didn’t help me back in the day, but what I do know is that I have the ability, the relationships and the resources to give these young men more than what I received when I was a student here.”
What makes the school such a special place is that 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.”

My WayMaker: Aulston Taylor
My mom sacrificed a whole lot for me… She made struggling look worth it. She always demonstrated that, whatever you’re going to do, do it well. A lot of people look at me and they think that I’m the ultimate networker, but it’s really her; I watched her work rooms. I paid attention to how she used resources. She is a large part of the reason that I’m here today, because of all of the things she poured into me.

From an interview with Louis Carr