John T. Washington paved way for minorities at UCF
"A lot of people don't know who he was," said Ida Cook, UCF associate professor of sociology. "They just know there's a building."
The John T. Washington Center, otherwise known as the breezeway, was renamed in 1984, the year after Washington died from a heart attack. According to Washington's colleagues, the man behind the building's name deserves more thought from the UCF community than just how long the Chick-fil-A line is going to be or how much you're going to spend in the UCF bookstore.
John T. Washington, one of the first African-Americans to join the UCF faculty, was an associate professor of sociology from the mid-1970s to early 1980s, according to the UCF Africana Studies website.
Cook, who was Washington's friend and colleague beginning in 1976, said that Trevor Colbourn, UCF's second president, relied on Washington to tell him about what could be done to assist minority faculty.
"His goal as a citizen, as an individual, was to try and help to bring a more integrated participation into the African-American community," Cook said.
Washington played a major role in the development of the Office of Equal Opportunity & Affirmative Action and the Office of Multicultural Academic and Support Services. He served as an adviser for many of the student organizations that, at the time, struggled to get minority representation on campus, according to the UCF Africana Studies website.
Washington helped establish the Black Faculty and Staff Association, said Anthony Major, director of Africana Studies, which houses the Africana Studies minor. Major said that through the BFSA, Washington mentored students and sponsored events.
During Washington's time on campus, it was very common to see a line of students waiting outside Washington's office to seek advice and council, and that made him more than just a regular professor, Cook said.
"John wasn't a wealthy man, but he was rich in his gifts," she continued. "It was the gift to people of his service, of his attention, generosity. He was very caring."
Major is involved with a yearly John T. Washington Community Service Awards & Scholarship Luncheon. This year, the event will be held Feb. 27 in the Student Union Pegasus Ballroom from noon to 2 p.m. as a part of UCF's Black History Month events.
"The main thing is to keep his legacy alive, and adhere to the characteristics of the man," Major said, referring to the luncheon's purpose.
At the luncheon, Washington's legacy will continue through the presentation of the Dr. John T. Washington Community Service Awards, which are given to one student and one adult who have been recommended by an individual in the community because of their outstanding community service efforts.
The luncheon serves as a way to "remember and revisit what this person did and to perpetuate it … To recognize the importance of service and to make a difference," Cook added.
Student Affairs Associate Dean Melvin Rogers, who knew Washington for a short time, said Washington felt like there was a place for everyone in the UCF community. He said Washington was very interested in Downtown Orlando community integration as well.
With the news of the university expanding to include a Downtown Orlando campus, Dean Rogers said, "Dr. Washington would have been smiling from ear to ear with the opportunity that UCF embraced that community and to help our students who are coming from that community."
UCF, Cook said, is a far, far better place because of him.
"He was a good friend. He was genuine. And it's a shame that more people don't know that," Cook said with tears in her eyes and an unsteady voice.
UCF Multicultural Student Center is providing many opportunities during February for all UCF students, staff and faculty to honor and celebrate black history, said Tsciena White, MSC student director and a senior public administration major.
So the next time you walk by the John T. Washington Center maybe you'll think about his impact on the UCF and Orlando community.
"If we exemplify his example, it would be a better campus, a better Orlando, a better Orange County and a better world," Major said.
Some of the Black History Month events at UCF:
BHM Theme Reveal and Opening Ceremonies
Monday at 10:30 a.m. in the Student Union Atrium for the theme reveal.
Noon in the Cape Florida Ballroom, Room 316D, for the opening ceremony where there will be T-shirts and performances including singing, dancing and spoken word.
Cultural Dance Series - African and drums
Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. in the RWC Mind & Body Studio
Event includes a star from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air as the the mystery guest of the "Guest Who" speaker event.
Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. in the Visual Arts Building auditorium
BFSA Mentoring Celebration
Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., will be speaking Feb. 25 in the Student Union Pegasus Ballroom at 8 a.m.
Paige Wilson is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @paigeshortstack or email her at PaigeW@CentralFloridaFuture.com.