ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — For the first time, three African-Americans are leading the three associations representing lawyers in Rochester.

In January, 34-year-old Jessica Simon-Rutledge began serving as the president of the Rochester Black Bar Association.

“What’s great about this is you don’t have to be the only voice for the black experience,” Simon-Rutledge said.

This Rochester native encourages young girls to pursue their dreams, even when its difficult. Simon-Rutledge became a mom at 14. 20 years later, her daughter is in college, and Simon-Rutledge is a practicing attorney for the City of Rochester.

“To sit next to two accomplished attorneys and make history, it means everything to me,” Simon-Rutledge said about her presidential appointment.

Josie Sheppard Wilson — the first in her family to graduate high school — has been practicing law for 13 years. In 2022, she became the first Black president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys.

“And I don’t want to be the last,” she said. “My goal is to make sure I lay the proper foundation and, number two, I stay engaged.”

In college, Sheppard Wilson organized a protest and eventually sued the shuttle bus company at the University of Nebraska for refusing to let her ride the bus. Part of the settlement included diversity training for campus bus drivers — she describes it as her “Rosa Parks moment,” and as what lead her to earn a law degree.

“I practice in the personal litigation space,” she explained. “I work with businesses, I help them understand how to avoid litigation on top of handling litigation that does arise.”

And, for 20 years, 48-year-old Rochester native Langston McFadden has also practiced commercial litigation law. He serves as the president of the area’s largest and oldest bar association.

“The Monroe County Bar Association has had a poor history of making attorneys of color feel included and welcomed, and that’s been why I wanted to change that,” McFadden said.

Throughout their year-long terms, these three Black presidents have used their respective platforms to break down barriers and shatter stereotypes within the legal profession, as well as throughout society.

“Every news story isn’t about Black crime,” McFadden said.

“There are Black attorneys out there, successful, thriving in our careers — that we can be presidents of organizations and we can be on the news make history in a positive way [is important],” Simon-Rutledge said.

The three have collaborated on a series of programs for both their colleagues as well as local law students.