Past their hardships, childhood companions turn colleagues

Past their hardships, childhood companions turn colleagues

Keisha Boggan cant remember a time when she didnt count Grace Taylor a close friend. 

Born to teenage parents, Boggan was raised by family and friends in the now defunct housing projects near George Washington Middle School. Alexandria runs through her veins: her father was a member of the famed 1971 T.C. Williams football team and her professional career has landed her as principal at Francis C. Hammond Middle School.

Taylor, principal at John Adams Elementary School, grew up the youngest of a family of six in a three-bedroom home near George Mason Elementary School. Her parents were older her father, a lawyer. 

They met in kindergarten and grew up together. The girls differing races, neighborhoods and family life mattered little in their younger years, and even when they began to understand their dissimilarities in early adolescence, the duo didnt let them come between their friendship.

In middle school you start to hang out with kids who look like you, who live across the street from you, Taylor said. But when we went to college, we still talked.

The two graduated from T.C. Williams High School in 1987, a generation after Alexandrias public schools integrated. There was racial and socioeconomic tension on some level, even if students didnt recognize its depth. But their friendship weathered it. 

Even though we lived in different parts of Alexandria, everybody would [hang out together], black, white or Latino, Boggan said. There were still those underlying issues and we probably didnt know the depth of those issues.

Though Alexandria had famously struggled with desegregation in the 1960s, T.C. always was a melting pot of nationalities and ethnicities, said John Porter, principal when the two were students. 

In the 1970s there was an influx of Southeast Asian students, in the early 1980s it was Afghani children. By the time Boggan and Taylor arrived, the school was welcoming a large population of Central and South American students, he said. Many came fleeing civil unrest in their home nations.

African-American and white students had been going to school together for a while now, but we started seeing a large influx of foreign-born students, Porter recalled. Our demographic was changing even more than the Remember the Titans movie depicted our demographics.

A tragic reunion

Taylor and Boggan left for college as friends and stayed in touch, but the death of a mutual childhood friend brought them back to Alexandria sooner than theyd expected. 

Roughly 100 members of the 87 class gathered around Thanksgiving in 1991 to remember Amy McCracken, who died in a car wreck about a month earlier, and celebrate her life. Taylor had grown up across the street from McCracken. The two were close. 

Keisha was instrumental in helping to plan that [commemoration], Taylor said. Amy and I were like sisters. Keisha was right there with me.

Boggan and Taylor grew closer through the ordeal, but the pair headed down different life tracks. Neither expected to go into teaching. Taylor considered a career in law while Boggan studied political science in North Carolina. But both found themselves drawn back into the classroom.

And in Boggans case, that meant teaching locally.

I always knew I was going to come back, Boggan said. Everything was so that I could come back to Alexandria to make a difference for the kids, as people did for me [during my childhood].

Boggan began her teaching career in Arlingtons Robert E. Lee High School before joining Alexandria City Public Schools for a job at Jefferson-Houston School, but Taylor had little inclination to return to her hometown.

Instead, she got off to a quick start in Atlantas public school district, eventually becoming a high school principal. She later moved to Colorado, but a second heartbreak her fathers illness and eventual death brought her back for the long haul.

Im so proud of you

The pair continued to cross paths in Alexandria. When Taylor was given the top job at George Washington, she hired Boggan as her assistant principal. The two friends became perfect coworkers: Taylor worked during the day and Boggan burned the midnight oil. 

Where working together might have caused friction between others, Boggan and Taylor saw their professional and personal lives intertwine. Even before Boggan became an administrator, Taylor would pop into her classroom occasionally and help lead lessons. 

Even students recognized the friends affection for one another. Taylors children knew Boggan as Auntie Keisha.”

In conversation, the two finish each others stories, interrupting one another to sing the others praises. As Boggan rattles off her career highlights, Taylor interjects to remind her of the education awards shes won and vice versa.

Their friendship and dedication to the city havent gone unnoticed. As school officials celebrated the start of the 2011-12 school year with the districts annual convocation, the two served as masters of ceremonies. 

The community is proud of us and they know about us, Taylor said. Thats the old Alexandria community, theyre glad to have two of their own in the schools.

Boggan is quick to agree.

Thats the first thing they say: Were so proud of you, she said. 

Alexandria never left them, never stopped cherishing them, and neither Boggan nor Taylor plan on leaving Alexandria.

When I left Alexandria and went to Atlanta, I brought a lot of [the city] down to Atlanta and then to Boulder, Taylor said. I brought Alexandria everywhere I went. Now Im back in Alexandria.