One source of unadulterated pride and honor that I have carried with me throughout life has been my association with Baton Rouge High School. I entered BRHS in a significant year: 1976. We were known as the Vanguard Class, the first to complete the school’s then-brand-new magnet school curriculum emphasizing a rigorous academic and performing arts focus. Graduating members of the class of 1980 went on to prestigious institutions like Notre Dame, Cal Tech, Harvard and MIT.
My pride was rooted not only in what I was taught academically, but by what I was taught experientially each day. It meant something to go to a school with the diverse student body, faculty, and administration that BRHS boasted — and continues to boast today. The school’s diversity encouraged in me a sense of great pride and awakened in me a sense of fresh aspiration — a sense that, as a young black American male student, I was capable of achieving beyond the goals I had set for myself.
The above facts are why, as a proud alumnus, I was stunned and upset by something I learned recently.
On March 8, 2018, in honor of International Women’s Day, the BRHS Foundation posted a series of 15 pictures of women who are inductees to the Baton Rouge High School Hall of Fame.
Not one of these was a woman of color.
I wrote to the head of the foundation expressing my concern: These images were not fully representative of the students, faculty, and staff I know to have distinguished themselves as members of the BRHS community. It was then I learned what I still find difficult to accept: Not one member of the Hall of Fame’s then-nearly 190 members was a person of color.
I find it difficult to reconcile that a school where racial and ethnic diversity are clearly represented among its every component lacks that diversity in one of its most celebrated alumni recognition programs. For this lack of diversity to have existed continuously for nearly 40 years strains the plausibility of any explanation claiming it to be a mere matter of chance.
The foundation’s deeply flawed HOF induction process does true harm, ignoring the achievements of some of the school’s most accomplished alumni while simultaneously devaluing the achievement of those inducted: Are those recognized really the best Baton Rouge High School has to offer?
I entreat the BRHS Foundation to revamp its policies and procedures as soon as possible, moving affirmatively toward a more representative HOF.
Only then can the pride that so many of us have carried for so many years regain its former shine. How the world sees us and how we see ourselves matters.
John B. Hammond III