As my dream is to build a statue at Edgerton Park where Earl Lloyd was the first African-American to play in the NBA, when biking past Edgerton Park yesterday I dropped by the Department of Recreation Office on Dewey Avenue.
I asked the desk attendant Jessica Rivera if anyone might know more about Lloyd. She immediately called Kevin Holman, Director of the Edgerton-R Center just down way at 41 Backus Street. Not only did Kevin know of Lloyd, he said there was a painting of him inside the Center!
Actually Kevin slightly misunderstood what I asked. The painting turned out not to be Lloyd but William “Dolly” King who played in 1946 for the Rochester Royals in the National Basketball League. I had learned about King at RIT’s recent exhibit, When Rochester Was Royal: Professional Basketball in Rochester, 1945-1957,
Though light-skinned, King was initially barred from the N.B.L because of its whites-only policy. In 1946, King became the first black in the N.B.L. and thus the first black professional basketball player in Rochester. Interestingly, 1946 was also the year Jackie Robinson was the first African-American baseball professional to play in Rochester.
King’s portrait was just one part of two dazzling walls of murals I had no idea existed. The finely crafted images colorfully capture — literally in bubbles — the past and present of Edgerton Park.
As explained by Kevin, the murals were installed about 5 months ago. Rec kids and staff members collaborated with artist Sarah Rutherford to design and create the murals. The murals are animated by an interesting concept in which a boy are girl are blowing bubbles across the walls.
Kevin says the idea is that the shimmering bubbles are moving through space, time and history. Within several of the floating bubbles are images of Edgerton Park past: the gates at the old Exposition Park, the old bandstand, the paddock where ladies in parasols watched the horses race.
In this daydream-like tableaux, the long gone icons of Edgerton Park do not feel like relics. The power of the mural is that the bubble-blowing boy and girl are themselves bringing history to life. In the murals, history is not about old relics. History is an act of the imagination.
On the wall opposite the historical bubbles is another interesting artistic device or concept. Kevin said Rec Center students in a photography class took photos of themselves taking photos. One photo was then turned into the image of the girl taking pictures of the boy blowing bubbles.The result of the camera image and the floating, shimmering bubbles enveloping Edgerton Park icons is that Edgerton Park past and present are no longer static. The whole mural becomes a fluid, playful representation about the making of the mural itself.
As they should be, Kevin says the staff and kids are proud of the work they did. The hallway is animated with the joy and pleasure the artists took in their creation. Kevin says people often comment on and compliment the murals. They give the Rec Center a new bright and upbeat vibe.
Especially since beginning the mural project, Kevin has become fascinated and knowledgeable on the history of Edgerton Park back to when the site was home to the grim Western House of Refuge from 1846 – 1907 (see Jeff Ludwig’s article).
Kevin showed me the original photos used in the murals, as well as maps and pictures of the park, and gave me the brochure for the Edgerton Model Train Room. Kevin also pointed to a mural on the outside wall, Digital Ripple, that — like the historical perspective of the inside mural — represents the trajectory of communication technology. We both agreed a follow up story needed to be done.
Kevin also explained the National Football League Rochester Jeffersons (1920 – 1925) had played their games at Edgerton Park. Quite possibly on the same turf, the Rochester UPrep varsity and junior varsity teams were practicing.
During the practice, I overheard Head Coach Terrell Cunningham addressing his players on the need to respect and listen to male role models.
Cunningham told them his own father was a “deadbeat dad,” whose negative example motivated Cunningham not to become one himself. Coach told the players it doesn’t matter if a male role model doesn’t look like you. If the message is sincere and productive, listen.
I also met offensive line coach, Patrick Best, UPrep Social Studies teacher and offensive line coach who played at St. John Fisher. Patrick talked about how a lot of his kids need the reassurance coaches can provide as male role models. Often, they experience men who come and go in their lives.
Patrick said in his first year players were often distant — partially because Patrick didn’t look like them and partially because the players were hesitant to make emotional connections.
When the team saw Patrick was back for his second year — and for the long term — things changed. Seeing that Patrick cared — and realizing that Cunningham meant what he said — the players have developed a strong bond with their offensive line coach on and off the football field.
From Jessica Rivera to Kevin Holman to Sherod Smith to Terrell Cunningham to Patrick Best, I left Edgerton Park feeling good.