Annette Rouse, longtime coordinator of the Rochester Urban League’s Black Scholar’s Program, will retire this year.
Rouse has led the program, which grants scholarships and recognizes the academic achievement of local African-American students, since its inception in 1980.
Former Urban League president and Rochester Mayor William Johnson created the initiative.
“I served briefly as the administrative assistant to Bill Johnson, from about ’73 to ’79, in various capacities at the Urban League,” Rouse stated. “Subsequently, I was offered the position to coordinate the Black Scholars Program. It was started in 1980. Before I started the Black Scholars assignment, I worked with Mr. Johnson very closely for major events. So, I had experience in working with the community.”
Rouse said she helped build the program, which started as an idea amongst Johnson and a few small business owners who wanted to recognize the academic success of local African-American students.
And, today, from what began as a program that acknowledged a little over 50 city students in its first year, it has grown into a major effort that awards millions of dollars in college scholarships to students across the county.
Following the 2015-2016 school year, the Urban League’s Black Scholars Program recognized 250 students, and allocated over $2.5 million in scholarships.
“They wanted to expand it, to include all schools in Monroe County, which meant a lot of contact with schools to get names of students who qualified, as well as planning an annual event to recognize those students,” Rouse stated. “Then, in 1985, I implemented a new program called Early Recognition, which was designed to recognize students before their senior year.”
Rouse said she began working to identify freshman students who were on track to become eligible for college through the Early Recognition Program, in order to prepare them for the college application process.
“We began the Early Recognition Program to encourage them, and to assist them to identify colleges, and scholarships,” she stated. “Our students would not always know about certain programs, and many times they’re the first in their families to go to college, so it can be intimidating.”
Rouse said the large endeavor seemed hard to sustain at times, with its small staff of mostly volunteers. And, as a result, she said she’s proud of the heights to which the program has risen.
“It’s hard to sustain, but we managed to do it for 40 years,” she stated. “I was the program coordinator, and the only staff we had was sometimes internships, but not a large staff that a program like this would normally have. Our staff consisted mostly of assignments given to staff within the agency. I think its a misconception, by the fact that we’ve accomplished so much, that there had to be 100 people doing it, but that’s not the case.”
As a result of leading the program, Rouse said one of the most rewarding outcomes has been watching past participants achieve success, and then pass that knowledge on to incoming students.
She said she’s glad to have been a part of the process.
“I have several students, some are parents now themselves, who not only tell me that I made a difference, it has encouraged them to the point that they are now replanting those seeds,” she stated. “You know, if you plant seeds, not all of them are going to survive it. But, those seeds that make it reproduce. And, we all are gardeners. We have to cultivate what we have.”
Rouse also said she’s enjoyed watching former Urban League scholars achieve their goals.
“I have so many students,” she stated. “I have a young lady, she just didn’t know what she wanted to do. She got involved with the Urban League, with reading. She’s now a professor at St. John Fisher. One of my scholars, he grew up in the heart of the city. He went on to Harvard Law School. He got a full ride to Harvard on his academics. He now works at a major law firm.”
And, although she will retire this year, Rouse said she plans to continue helping students reach their goals, while navigating the college application process.
She will continue working with the Rochester Area Community Foundation in the future, as well as other local groups to award college scholarships, she said.
She also plans to stay connected with the Urban League.
“I have been involved with the Rochester Area Community Foundation on the scholarship advisory committee,” Rouse stated. “I plan to continue working with them, and I have done so this past summer, helping to review applications. I’m also a member of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, and I serve on the scholarship committee. What I want to do, most of all, is continue that, and stay linked with the Urban League. Maybe I can work with parents who feel intimidated by the college application process. I plan to use my skills, and history of helping people know what to do, when, and how to do it. And, a lot of the scholarship committees have asked if I would be willing to continue to assist them in reviewing applications. I have been richly blessed by the service community. I want to continue my involvement, so we can continue what we’re trying to do here.”