John McDonogh Senior High School on historic Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans was in all the news last fall, as the scene of a number of serious fights between students and between students and faculty. One of our pastors, Lionel Roberts of St. Bernard Baptist Mission, is on staff there, handling disciplinary problems, and he agreed to give Pastor Thomas Glover and me the grand tour this morning.
That’s how we ended up in a meeting with Bill Cosby.
We arrived at 10 am and waded through several layers of security guards. They seemed to be everywhere, mainly standing around and looking people over, not checking IDs or passing people through scanners. Their presence is as a leavening agent, I suppose. Lionel pointed out they were not armed. “Most of these kids respect only law enforcement people with a gun on their hip.”
I said, “Who was John McDonogh? There are schools all over New Orleans named for this man.” Thomas Glover attended this school–he calls it “John Mac”–and said, “Some rich guy a long time ago who endowed a lot of schools in this city. When I was a student here, every year on his birthday, the schools would let out and we would all convene at his tombstone. It was a big deal.” The phone directory lists a half dozen “McDonogh” schools, including three “senior high schools” with his name. This one was listed simply as John McDonogh Senior High School, but the other two have numbers, like “McDonogh 28 High School.” I had no idea. Bet this is really confusing. (see post script at the end for more on McDonogh.)
That must have been some man. Thomas said, “There used to be more schools named for him, but they’ve changed the names of some.”
“This school was built in the 1920s,” said Lionel Roberts. I said, “It looks great. Fresh coat of paint everywhere.” The result of post-Katrina volunteers, he said.
We met the principal, Mr. Jackson, an impressive-looking young man who was trying to juggle several things at the same time, so we swapped business cards and told him we are praying for him. He was very personable and you immediately felt a respect for him.
“Are all the students Black?” I asked. “We have a few Hispanic,” said Lionel. “No whites.”
I had brought along my sketch pad, so I said, “Does this school have art classes? Let’s go there.” Art teachers are always glad when a cartoonist drops in. Gives them a break from teaching and the kids love to get drawn and they might actually pick up a pointer in the process.