Monday, September 21, 2015

Denzel Washington's Greatest Role: Mentor

The Boys & Girls Clubs' most famous alum inspires kids to follow his lead.
By Matt McMillen
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

Walking to Nathan Hale elementary school in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Denzel Washington passed the construction site for the Boys Club building each morning, anxious to get inside.
"I was 5, 6, maybe 7 years old, and I couldn't wait," he recalls. "My mother took me there when it finally opened, and the rest is history."
The two-time Academy Award­winner and star of the new film The Equalizer says the Boys Club of Mount Vernon (later renamed the Boys & Girls Club) helped set the foundation for his success. He's been the national spokesman for Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) for more than 2 decades now. "I'm asked to do a lot of things, but this is one [cause] that I can speak honestly about," says Washington, 59. "I know what was done for me there, and I'm sure there are thousands of young men and women who can attest to the same difference it made in their lives."
Washington, who grew up in Mount Vernon, a city just north of the Bronx, was the son of loving but busy parents. His father was a Pentecostal minister who worked two jobs during the week and preached on Saturdays and Sundays. His mother owned and ran a beauty parlor. Washington needed a place to be after school, and the club gave him a safe haven from the streets.

"The lessons that I first learned at home and at church and then later at the club kept me from getting into any serious trouble," he says. Of course, he didn't know that then. He was simply thrilled to have a place to play, a place to be around boys his own age. "We were being taught good lessons along the way, but as a kid, that's not what I went there for."
Still, the club made a mark upon him in his 12 years there. Washington recalls with affection a number of the club staff members who acted as counselors and mentors to the many boys who came through the doors. Charles White was one of those mentors.
"I remember him saying to me, 'You're a very smart young man and you can do anything you want in life.' I don't know if that was the truth," Washington says with a laugh. "But I remembered it. Up to that point, I'd never thought of myself that way. Having an adult tell a child something positive like that is a powerful thing. Words are powerful. I remember leaving the club and walking home and thinking, 'Wow, I can do something.' I didn't know what that meant at 8 years old, but I never forgot it."


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