Willie Lightfoot: Keeper of the Avenue and Founder of SWAN

Willie Lightfoot was a part of the southwest community for over 40 years. In our children, he saw tomorrow and believed with proper spiritual and educational guidance, they would emerge as the new leaders of our community. Jefferson Avenue ws his “Dream Street” and through the 60s, 70s, 80 and 90s he was the “Keeper of Jefferson Avenue.”

Willie came to Rochester in the 1950’s and lived at 379 Jefferson Avenue where he attended and graduated from Madison High School in 1954. His parents were migrant workers and he too worked in the fields picking apples and potatoes. His friends called him “Big Dog.” He was a three-star athlete in high school, skilled in track and field, basketball and football. At the age of 28 he became the President of ABC. In 1965 he opened a shop at the corner of Prospect and Troup St. called the House of Black Beauty. He and others opened the People’s Club, a nightclub and gaterhing place in 1970 at 584 Jefferson Avenue. In 1982, he worked as a community organizer at Montgomery Neighborhood Center and later in 1976 he was one of the four who organized the Third Ward Area Neighborhood Association which was renamed a few years later to the Southwest Area Neighborhood Association and he became its founding Executive Director. Willie lobbied to have James Madison School of Excellence built on the site of the old Madison High School. He learned how to play the saxaphone which lead to the formation of the SWAN Community Band. The band includes musicians from grammar school to retirement age. Willie served as a County Legislator from 1978 to 1980 and from 1987 until his death. In a 1982 upstate article entitled, “Dream Street,” Willie is quoted as saying:

“I’m not trying to sound funny, but I think about myself when I hear a preacher saying he was called. I feel like I was called by the people to help this community. Whenever I go some place that’s a better place, it motivates me to come back and try to make this a better place.” – Willie Lightfoot