WXXI AM News

Portrait series honors historical leaders of color

Jan 10, 2020

Credit East High School/Facebook

East High School is honoring leaders of color with the help of local artist Shawn Dunwoody. 

Dunwoody painted public portraits of historical figures like President Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and 27 others as part of The Legacy Project: The Eyes of Our Ancestors. 

The 10-by-4 portraits are hanging in the school's courtyard on East Main Street. 

Organizers like Dr. James Willis, the director of African and American studies for the Rochester City School District, hope these images can be inspirational for students and the community at large.

“We hope that we’re creating a sacred place for people to fellowship and to hold events, and we’re really excited to bring it as early as possible to the community,” said Willis. 

Among the nine local people chosen are Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and world-renowned choreographer Garth Fagan. 

Fagan offered some advice for young people about how to make their own mark in the world.

“Bust your derriere. Work hard. Do your homework. Listen to your teachers. Find a teacher mentor. Teacher mentors kicked my butt, and I thank them for it,” said Fagan. 

Fagan also thanked his late wife, Norma, and longtime staffers and dancers for enabling him to receive honors like this one.

“Some people work their entire lives and nobody ever notices,” Fagan said. “The fact that they’re honoring me in this way, I feel privileged and thankful and grateful."

The school is hoping to add more artwork to the series over time. 

The project was inspired by “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” a novel by Zora Neale Hurston.