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The front of McKinley High School, Tuesday, February 6, 2018, before a forum held on campus to discuss construction that is slated for the next decade.

Sometimes our young people don’t understand that profanity and paint can be an evil mixture. The wicked combination, depending on where and how it is used, can break hearts.

I and many people I know were saddened when the TV news showed video of vulgarity painted on some of the exterior walls of my alma mater, McKinley High School in old south Baton Rouge. Several students were blamed for the incident.

I hope they feel bad about what they did. Really bad. And I feel bad for all schools where students and others decided that painting vulgarities on the buildings was a fun thing to do.

The damage done at McKinley High hit me hard, and I wasn’t alone. For so many of us from “back in the day,” that school and the other buildings that wear the name McKinley was everything.

I knew I was not alone in my sadness when a friend, Mack Jordan, stopped me in the grocery store and started to talk about what happened at McKinley. “It’s just sad. I don’t why someone would do that to McKinley. All I ever heard about growing up was McKinley and the McKinley class of this year and that year and how proud y’all are.”

Mack Jordan never attended McKinley. He is a graduate of L.B. Landry High School in New Orleans. I met him on a sandlot basketball court years ago, and we have been friends ever since.

Maybe the reason this happened is because people like me have not done a good enough job telling the younger generation about the history and importance of the McKinley schools.

We should tell them that from the 1920s through the 1950s, black children would be getting up around 4 a.m. so they could catch a series of rides from parishes around Baton Rouge to get to McKinley High, the only high school for African-American students anywhere in the region.

They probably hadn’t heard about the young people who would be picking, planting and chopping on farms and plantations until they could put their tools down and head to McKinley High weeks after school had started.

Maybe those students didn’t understand how much those bricks they spray-painted meant to the old heads who had so little to call their own other than the school. “We may not have anything else, but we got this,” they would say.

The vandals might not have made that bad decision if they had seen Eunice Howard Raby’s smiling face when she donated her 1941 commencement announcement to the McKinley High Alumni museum. How impressed they might have been to know that during Raby’s time at McKinley, some students walked home for lunch and returned, on time, for their next class. (Try that today, almost anywhere.)

The offenders should have remembered that the first African-American president of United States visited that school over all others in the parish. Seems like they would take pride in that.

Edward Pratt: In sea of blight, island of hope

Maybe no one told them that they walk in the footsteps of doctors, lawyers, educators, mechanics, military folks, community leaders and builders, college and pro stars, business owners, engineers, ministers, Grammy-winning opera and blues singers, etc. Many of them left McKinley with, as the old blues song says, little more than a nickel and a nail.

Old heads like myself should show them a picture of mathematician Dolores Spikes, the first woman to be president of a major university in Louisiana and the first woman to preside over a university system (Southern University) in the United States.

They had to know that the school produced the first African-American city councilman, city court judge, district judge in East Baton Rouge Parish and the youngest state representative and U.S. Representative from Louisiana. Eddie Robinson, the legendary Grambling State University football coach, finished at McKinley.

Until someone tells me different, I will count my 1972 classmate, Elaine Carrasco, as the first white student to graduate from a predominantly black high school in Baton Rouge — and maybe in the state.

The first female football player to kick an extra point in a boy’s high school football game in Louisiana, was a McKinley player. Take that, sports fans.

I guess they never heard famed McKinley basketball coach Carl Stewart tell young men that you may have nothing else, but you can have pride in where you are and what you do.

I really hope for those students accused of this sad deed that instead of being charged with a crime, they will be taken to a classroom and provided the history of McKinley and what it has meant to the African-American community here and in other parishes.

Hopefully, one or all of them will be the next McKinley newsmakers. Next time, for all the right reasons.

Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.