Community, national leaders recognized in latest addition to East High portraits

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When students at East High School (EHS) step outside, they have some powerful people watching over them.

Roughly 30 larger-than-life historical and influential figures look out over the school courtyard.

These paintings give a close-up look at some of Rochester’s – and the nation’s – best leaders.

“It was people […] who are tangible,” EHS Vice President Deon Rodgers said. “These are leaders in the community who are visible, who did not lead from afar. They led from within the people.”

Rodgers welcomed Monday night’s crowd as EHS unveiled ten new faces joining the courtyard. They, just like the previous 20, were chosen collaboratively by administrators, parents, and, of course, students.

“Our children, or our scholars, had a big voice on that,” Rodgers said. “They had to do the research on the individuals, so that they kind of drove who we chose.”

Among those chosen? Shawn Corey Carter, better known by his stage name, Jay-Z.

“As they did the research, it was not only for his music — which they all like — but it was his influence on just giving back,” Rodgers explained.

While Jay-Z may not be public about his philanthropy, he has funded several scholarships, and even has a foundation dedicated to helping underprivileged students continue their education.

He, like many of the other people, stare out over the courtyard as a symbol of success — whether financial, emotional, social, or something else entirely.

“That is long lasting,” Rodgers said. “It’s not only that our scholars are looking at eyes. They know the history, they know the struggle. They know the success behind the people we have.

The series – called The Legacy Project: The Eyes of our Ancestors – was painted by local artist Shawn Dunwoody, and funded by a grant. Rodgers said the inspiration for an optical theme came from Zora Neal Thurston’s novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The 1937 coming-of-age classic is a story of self-discovery, and mastering your own destiny.

“We’re hoping that they’re not only coming to get an education, but that they leave East High School with a foundation to go out and understand that you are our future leaders,” Rodgers said. “You are the ones carrying the torch, for the eyes are watching.”

The 10 new figures added Tuesday were:

  • Rochester’s first Black mayor, Bill Johnson
  • Local social justice advocate Rev. Franklin Florence, Sr.
  • Activist and Rochester City School District educator Nydia Padilla-Rodriguez
  • Stacey Abrams, the first Black woman to be nominated for governor (by a major party) in the United States
  • Shawn Corey Carter (Jay-Z), an internationally-renowned rapper who is also a philanthropist
  • Gloria Langston, owner and co-founder of Rochester’s WDKX radio station
  • Andrew Langston, co-founder and CEO of Rochester’s WDKX radio station
  • Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton
  • Loretta Scott, first Black woman to serve as a department head in the city of Rochester (Parks, Recreation, and Human Services)
  • David Gantt, first Black representative of Monroe County in the NYS Assembly