Selections from the 2018 Young Authors’ Book Project, Through the Same Halls: “Once a Toiler, Always a Toiler”

“In ten years, that’s how I want people to remember me. I want them to remember my bravery, my smile, and how strong I am.”

—Alexa V., Young Authors’ Book Project student author

Excerpts from Manual Arts Senior High School student Alexa V.’s interview with MAHS Alumni Liaison Myra Porter-Robertson (Class of ’73) for the 2018 Young Authors’ Book Project anthology Through the Same Halls.

Myra Porter-Robertson volunteers as the Alumni Liaison for Manual Arts High School. You’ll know it’s her because she’ll have her purple and grey Toiler gear on. Her husband, Derrick, will probably be walking next to her. He is her high school sweetheart and they’ve been together since her junior year, when they were both young Toilers. History is the most important thing to Myra. She holds all of Manual Arts history and is happy to tell you all about it.

There are twenty-three couples that are still together from her graduating class. Her son Myron graduated from Manual Arts in 1996.  She still lives nearby and is still connected to the school and its changing history.

Through the Same Halls available for purchase here

Alexa V.: What were you like when you were at Manual Arts?

Myra Porter-Robertson: I was basically an average student. I had a lot of friends, but I didn’t deal with cliques. I moved around to different groups, so that’s why I know so many people. I was never the type of person who had to be with the same four or five people. My husband played football, he ran track, and I was in pep club and drill team, so I kept busy. I have friends who I grew up with in the neighborhood. We’re all still friends today. I was involved in my church so I had a lot of friends there, too. Some of them also went to Manual. My siblings all went to Manual Arts, too. I bleed purple. 

“Manual Arts is in my blood.”

I’d been wanting to go to Manual since elementary school. From Menlo Avenue, I could hear the band playing. Sometimes I got to go to the games with my older siblings. My sister graduated in 1969— Brenda Porter. She’s just five years older than me. I used to hang with the big girls and go to parties and stuff with her. I got a lot of life experiences through my older siblings. I had a brother who graduated in ‘64, Raymond Porter, and my other brother, Samuel Porter, graduated in ‘65. He was also a cheerleader. He was a Yell King for his year. Basically, Manual Arts is in my blood.

My son also came here and graduated in ‘96. He was instrumental in getting the music program back at Manual Arts. He wanted to be a music major. At first, he wanted to go Hollywood High, and I was like, “No, you need to go to Manual, it’s right down the street!” So he came here and since they didn’t have a music program, he used to bring his drum up and play during the games in the bleachers. He got a little drum squad together and then the school was like, “Okay, we need the music program back.” Then they got the music program back.

AV: What was Manual Arts like back in the 1970’s?

MPR: With each decade, Manual Arts has changed ethnically. When we were here, it was basically all African American students. We had Latino, Asian, Caucasian students here, so it was a mix, but the majority of the population was Black. However, there wasn’t any racial divide. We were all just family, so we all got along. Every now and then, a gang would try to infiltrate the school, but the football players wasn’t having it.

“We had a lot of Toiler pride. We loved our school, we took care of each other.”

From my graduating class, we have three couples that are still together. That shows you how bonded we were as a Toiler family, we had a lot of Toiler pride. We loved our school, we took care of each other. Every school got a few little mishaps with this person liking this other person’s boyfriend, so they get into it, but at the end of the day, they were back to being friends. It wasn’t like now. Back then you had your fists, you fought, you pulled some hair, then the next week you were back to being buddies.

It’s a lot different now. There’s not much school pride here, and that’s what I try to do—bring awareness to the school about its history because it’s important. If you don’t know where you’ve come from or who was here before you, or what they did, then you have no pride in what you have. For example, the Wall of Honor downstairs [in the Main Building]—students just pass by that wall. There are important names on the wall, but students don’t have any connection. They don’t know why these people are there.

“There’s a rich legacy here and most people don’t even know it. They don’t know what they actually have.”

That’s why I spearheaded the centennial for this school in 2010 and brought awareness to who those people were. I like finding out more and more about the history of Manual Arts because that gives me a lot of pride, too. I try to make sure that it continues—the legacy continues. There’s a rich legacy here and most people don’t even know it. They don’t know what they actually have.

I believe a quality Myra and I share is our courage. During our interview, we bonded and laughed a lot. She shared a lot about herself and her family. She is the first person I’ve ever interviewed. It was scary at first, but she made it easier by making me feel like I was doing something brave. In ten years, that’s how I want people to remember me. I want them to remember my bravery, my smile, and how strong I am. Especially how strong I am because I’ve struggled through a lot. I want people to understand how hard I try to keep going.

I chose to interview Myra because she is smart, interesting, and brave. She has also dealt with challenges, but has managed to get back up. She inspired me, not only with her knowledge about Manual Arts, but with the last advice she gave me: “I wish I could have taken this advice myself when I was your age…when you dream and want to be something good in life, you go for it. You cannot let anyone stop you from that.”

About the Author

Alexa V. is passionate about eating a lot and bumping music. She was born in Los Angeles, California. Alexa was raised in South Central on 54th and Vermont. Most people don’t know she plays hockey. Alexa loves writing and typing. She hopes to obtain a journalism degree in college. Later, she also wants to be an immigration lawyer. Her father always told her, “Dream big, don’t listen to what others tell you not to do, always listen to yourself, and you will get to what you want.”

Read more about the 2018 Young Authors’ Book Project here. Through the Same Halls is available for purchase in-stores at the Time Travel Mart or online here.

Photos courtesy of Star Montana and Las Fotos Project.

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