This story appeared in the September issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
I’m a Preservationist
Aulston Taylor – Chief Development Officer, St. Augustine High School. Board Member, Preservation Resource Center
Before you joined St. Augustine High School as its Chief Development Officer, you were a senior account executive in New York for BET Networks, a Viacom property, and also worked for ESPN. What motivated you to come home to New Orleans?
I spent nearly 17 years in New York City. Loved it! However, I always knew I would return home to attempt to make an impact on institutions near and dear to my heart. Growing up as a young man who had many individuals wrap their arms around me and pour into my growth, it was important for me to return home at some point in my career and pay it forward in those same places that nurtured me. So here we are a year and a half later! It feels great to be back.
Tell us about your work at St. Augustine and how the school is doing during this difficult time.
My work at St. Aug (as we affectionately call our wonderful institution) is endless. My primary role is to serve as principal advisor to our CEO on all fundraising and advancement matters. I oversee the advancement team at the school, which includes an officer who makes an impact by way of foundation and corporate giving, as well as a coordinator who manages our alumni relations efforts and our donor database. My team is amazing, and they keep me going. I’m nothing without them. This past school year, as a team, we set a new fundraising high by securing $3.5 million during the school’s fiscal year from August 2019 to July 2020. Now, we are back to zero and a new goal as we start the new school year.
Yes, things are not normal for us at school due to COVID-19, but we are adjusting well to continue our mission to impact the minds and lives of Black and Brown boys in the City of New Orleans. You asked me why I came home in your first question. Well, truth be told, my last statement is the truest answer. I came home for them: to be the person I needed when I was their age. Every day, I remind myself that these young men deserve all I can achieve for them, so I need to do something every day that positively impacts their lives beyond yesterday.
You own one of the condominiums in the historic Straight University building, which was restored by the PRC. Straight University was one of the first colleges for African American students in Louisiana. What’s it like to live in a place filled with so much history?
Indescribable! I have the opportunity to wake up in a home that was originally built to create a space to educate and advance Black students. It is also only five minutes west of St. Augustine High School, where I too am able to do the same work, advance the lives of young, Black men through my role. It’s an extraordinary feeling and one that I will keep with me forever.
You grew up in Treme, near the Straight University building. What are your fondest memories of the neighborhood?
There are so many. From random second lines starting on a lazy Sunday just because the brass band felt like rejoicing, to spending a day in Louis Armstrong Park with my family, to playing basketball in the Treme Center, my memories are abundant. I also remember walking to the bus stop early in the morning to go to school at the corner of Esplanade and North Claiborne knowing I would always hitch a ride from someone heading to St. Aug, and it always worked. I even still have unused bus tickets from 1994 to 1998, but the absolute best memory was when I would come home and see my grandmother sitting on the porch in her signature picnic chair. The visual of her sitting there waving and talking to the neighbors reminded me that the neighborhood is doing OK, and in that moment, all was well in the world.
As a board member of the PRC, what does preservation mean to you?
When I think of the word preservation other words also come to mind, such as character, history, importance, regal, unduplicated, authentic, majestic. It also means saving what was built to last…forever. I’m honored to have a seat at the table, but don’t take for granted my role to ensure others are exposed to the work we do, and how preserving their history is tied to it. My greatest appreciation goes to Gaynell Lawrence (former board member) for believing in me and nominating me in 2019. She’s a real preservationist, and I hope to have made as significant a contribution as she has when my time is done.