Dr. Madelaine Paschal
Friendship isn’t based on length – just the kind it is – the quality it assumes, and the type of bond it provides. I have a friend. His name is Jesse Washington. His story is real, poignant, and valuable because he is. Jesse Washington would never tell it. But he would be humbled, if someone else did, so I did.
Jesse Washington’s life began in the deep South. His aunt and uncle would care for him, provide a safe haven for him, love him, and move him to California where he would discover a ‘caste’ system he hadn’t known, one by which he would have to abide throughout his teenage years and even into adulthood. The Civil Rights movement had shaken the foundation of America. Jesse and his family witnessed first-hand, its birth. Jesse saw the inception of civil rights in elementary school, proudly proclaiming that his best friends were all colors; Filippino, Japanese, black, and white! Breaking early color and race barriers, they would remain friends all their lives.
Jesse’s childhood focused on his innate abilities to play any sports and sing any song. During those early years, he would attend the all-white Episcopal church and immediately be chosen altar boy, a huge honor for Jesse – one reserved for white families only. Jesse would understand that color was important to some, but soul more important to others, and Jesse had soul!
During high school, Jesse played musical instruments and baseball and couldn’t choose between them. Riding his bicycle from one to another, Jesse found if he rode fast enough and ate less, he could manage to do everything! Jesse’s heart was set on another talent, one in which he was tutored during lunch every day – voice! He would give up lunch for four years while learning to read music and vocalize. Jesse’s voice was becoming directly linked with his sweet, malleable heart. Everyone saw it, especially his teachers!
Jesse’s college career and integration would begin with Humboldt University. Black students had never been allowed in the college town of Arcadia. Those years were filled with anxiety, trepidation, adversity and much courage!
Jesse faced prejudice square on but still wasn’t allowed to play college baseball. Instead, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, immediately broke his leg, signed with the Baltimore Orioles, and knew his baseball career was essentially over. BUT his vocal career wasn’t. By now Jesse was working for Parks and Recreation for the City of Berkley and had become an integral part of the San Francisco Opera Company and one of their stars! Jesse Washington never gave up or in! He would spend his entire adult life helping others to see the value of movement and music…a special combination. And Jesse would finally marry the love of his life, Delores, and together they would revel in retirement by traveling the world, caring for their families, and helping others to find God’s face by looking into theirs. Jesse Washington, a courageous soul, a man among men, and a voice to be heard! Jesse Washington – doing it his way!