One of the most influential professors to join the UCF faculty, John T. Washington’s influence went far beyond the classroom. At a time in UCF and American history when African Americans were boldly presented with racial inequalities and injustices, Washington was a soft-spoken, selfless leader, who dedicated his life to serving and standing up for others. Besides being one of the first African Americans to hold a faculty position at the University of Central Florida (from mid-1970s to early 1980s), Washington was a humanitarian and leader who not only taught a life of service, but also lived it. His sincerity and altruism had a profound impact on those with whom he had contact. The paragraphs that follow provide insight into John T. Washington the person, minister, UCF colleague & professor, community activist, and his legacy. This is supplemented with audio commentary from people who knew him well, and invite you to share in his memory. We hope that this page will be source of inspiration for you to get involved or to stay involved with providing service to people in your community.
John T. Washington grew up in the South Florida town of Immokalee. He was hard working and persistent in his pursuit to becoming a husband, minister, and professor. After serving in the US Air Force, he came home and worked with US Postal Services. Upon receipt of his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he taught courses at UCF. He then commuted from Orlando, to the University of Florida in Gainesville and completed his Ph.D in Sociology. In addition to his educational goals, John T. Washington realized his calling to be a minister. In order to fulfill this calling, he believed that he would need a wife. After years of courting his longtime friend, he finally convinced Alma Louise to be his wife. Even before they were married, he would care for her two children while she was out of town. He extended this same type of concern to his friends, colleagues, students, church members and anyone in need of his help. He was committed to excellence in his personal life and wanted others to strive to be their best as well. He was a man of principle and conviction, a family man, a confidant and a great friend.
After wedding Ms. Alma Louise, he founded the First Church of Peace in Orlando, where faculty and people from all walks of life were members. In addition to being founder and pastor, he also served as an individual and group counselor. He had a great vision for the First Church of Peace, to be a place that anyone would feel welcomed, and receive the support they needed to do better for themselves. Unfortunately, after his passing the First Church of Peace did not carry on.
Washington was an Associate Professor of Sociology at UCF. One of the things that made Washington more effective as a professor was that everyday he lived what he taught in the classroom. He was much more than a professor to his students. Students saw that Washington was passionate about what he taught, and were drawn to him. According to his colleagues, it was not uncommon to find a line of students outside of his office waiting for his counsel.
He found others ways of demonstrating support to his students. Washington was instrumental in the development of the Office of Equal Opportunity & Affirmative Action, the African American Student Union, and the Office of Multicultural Academic and Support Services. He also served as the advisor to many of the student organizations who at the time were at the forefront of the struggle to strengthen minority representation on UCF campus.
Washington upheld strict standards of professionalism and accountability, and embraced the individual and collective responsibilities that come with being a colleague. He valued and respected the work of all employees, and viewed his status as a minority faculty member as one of tremendous significance. Washington used his exceptional communication skills to engage faculty, staff and administrators, and challenged them to view situations from multiple perspectives.
Washington was a very active community leader and activist. He had the unique ability to bring diverse populations together to work for the good of the community. He worked with several community organizations such as the Orlando Housing Community, the NAACP, the Orlando Metropolitan Urban League and the Mayor’s Minority Business Task Force. He was particularly passionate about the Meals on Wheels program which provided meals for Orlando’s elderly. His efforts were publicly recognized when he was awarded the WESH Channel 6 Jefferson Award. This distinguished award is given to individuals for their leadership and volunteerism in community service.
In 1984, the year following his untimely death in 1983, the UCF Student Services Building was named in Washington’s honor. To keep his commitment to scholarship and community service alive, the university established a tradition of honoring adult, youth and community individuals with the Dr. John T. Washington Community Service Awards. The award recognizes people who exemplify the same humanitarian and scholarly characteristics that were vividly demonstrated by Washington. The annual John T. Washington luncheon, typically held in April, honors his legacy by celebrating the involvement of citizens who participate in community and civic programs in the Greater Central Florida area. For his legacy and years of dedicated service to the City of Orlando, his family was awarded with a Resolution from the City Council in March of 1983.
There are many titles that one could use to describe Dr. John T. Washington, professor, colleague, minister, student advisor and/or community leader. His life was invaluable to many people because he had the ability to influence others in so many ways. Though an ordinary man, the manner in which he selflessly lived his life was a vivid example of altruism to whoever he encountered. He looked for ways to serve others and did so selflessly and sincerely. For those who knew him personally, their recollections of him are unfading. For them, it is an honor to have known him.
Alma Louise also reflects on her husband.