It was 1993. A 13-year-old boy sat in the bleachers of a Tulane University youth baseball camp in New Orleans. He was geared up to play: cleats tied, baseball uniform on, mitt on the bench beside him. But as camp participants ran drills on the field, the boy sat watching them.
A woman walked by and asked why he wasn’t playing. “My mom couldn’t afford it,” he replied. “I’m here watching my best friend until we head to our summer team’s practice at six o’clock.”
“Come with me,” the woman stated.
That woman was Gina Jones, wife of then Tulane baseball head coach Rick Jones. A phone call to the young man’s mom and he found himself on the field with his best friend. By the end of camp that week, he was named most improved player.
“I never forgot that moment and feeling of generosity, of someone helping me for no reason,” said Aulston Taylor, who was that little leaguer and is now an account executive in BET’s Ad Sales division, managing relationships with Nissan, McDonald’s, State Farm, Under Armour, Johnson & Johnson, and many others.
It was that moment, along with a childhood spent immersed in the New Orleans community that inspired Taylor to commit himself to become a highly active mentor as an adult. And it is Viacom’s dedication to running strong mentoring programs that is, in his opinion, one of the biggest virtues of working here.
“I can’t work for a company that’s not involved in the community,” he said. “It’s an absolute necessity. The social responsibility aspect of a company is just as important as its programming.”
Taylor’s experience is deep – He estimates that he’s acted as a mentor to more than 75 individuals in just the past five years. He maintains relationships and correspondence with the majority of them. He tries to keep at least two interns on his staff at all times and returns to his New Orleans high school each year to teach a one-day business entrepreneurship course.
Today, Taylor volunteers in Viacom’s UP Mentoring program (who just completed their year-end ceremony), meeting with Manhattan high school students regularly to build a virtual media consultancy website. His manner with them is complimentary, constructive, and direct. In a recent prep session to ready the students for a city championship competition, he recalled details from presentations they gave six weeks before, gave each student advice on poise and manner, and broke down complex problems into simple, digestible bullets.
He challenges his charges to think of themselves as brands and articulate their personal story, to grasp the power of networking and to think about the act not just as socializing, but as investing in relationships.
“Taylor taught me the power of how to tell my story,” says Wallace Mack, a 2015 graduate of Clemson University and a 2013 Louis Carr Foundation intern in BET Ad Sales. “He made me think about how I craft my story and deliver it to people in a concise, compelling manner. He also taught me the importance of relationship-building and risk-taking – when I returned to Clemson after my internship this past summer and had a chance to take on a full-time position as a manager and editor of a brand-new magazine, I was nervous and hesitant because I’d never done anything like it before. I called Aulston and he said, ‘Nervous about what? Accept the opportunity to make a difference and balance your time accordingly.’ And I did.”
Back to New Orleans. This time it’s 2008, and Taylor is back in his hometown working at St. Augustine High School – his alma mater – post Hurricane Katrina. One night in a restaurant, he spots Coach Jones, who, delighted to see him, instructs him to go see his wife. The overjoyed woman introduced Taylor to a young man named Keith Lathers, an 11-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy – a genetic disorder that gradually weakens the body muscles. Though he enters the room with the assistance of a walker, the boy, a huge sports fan, is irrepressible, begging Taylor for recollections of his time working at ESPN. Remembering what Jones had done for him 15 years before, Taylor decided to do an unsolicited good deed for Lathers: he wrote to the New Orleans Saints telling them about a boy who was an avid fan who would love to meet the team. Three weeks later, Lathers found himself the center of attention at a Saints practice. He met all the players, including his two favorites: quarterback Drew Brees and running back Reggie Bush. The next day, Lathers attended his first Saints game, standing on the sidelines and watching his new friends play a Monday Night Football game at the Superdome.
What was done for Taylor in 1993 spearheaded a lasting movement that has shown him the value of giving back and making a difference in other people’s lives. As he did for Keith Lathers, Taylor has embraced the duty of being a mentor for life.