SRU alumnus returns to share diversity message

Jamie Washington giving a speech

Feb. 10, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - The Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington has been described in many ways: a writer, speaker, coach, consultant, teacher and trainer.

But the one he enjoys the most is that of facilitator.

"I guess you could say I'm sort of like a modern day Johnny Appleseed," said Washington, a 1982 Slippery Rock University graduate with a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy. "However, instead of seeds, I'm planting a sense of hope, community, humanity and healing so that folks can begin to see the possibilities of what we can have - a genuine love for all human life regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

"There is a real fear out there for folks about be judged. Whether that judgement stems from how they are feeling, or how they view a particular topic, event or crisis, there is a lot of discomfort out there.

"What I enjoy doing is helping people work through that discomfort by providing skills and tools that teach people how to live, work and move amongst each other on a common plane. But in order to do that, we have to work through the anxiety and unease in order to find a space where we can accept one other for who and what we are; to be okay with that; and be able to live and work in unity."

Washington, the founder and president of the Washington Consulting Group, a Baltimore, Maryland-based multicultural organizational development firm, will serve as the exclamation point to Slippery Rock University's Black History Month celebration with a pair of presentations Feb. 28 in the Smith Student Center Ballroom.

An afternoon diversity session for faculty and staff is at 12:30 p.m., followed by an all-campus event at 7 p.m.

"Coming back to my alma mater is both exciting and nervous," said Washington. "SRU is where it all started for me. It's where I learned I could have an impact on the world. To be invited back is very humbling and an honor. To have the chance to be there for the students, faculty and staff and be a source of encouragement for just one person is a matter I take very seriously. The work that is being done there is incredibly important and will have a huge impact on our future. Who knows who is out there right now? Is it the next Jamie Washington? Or maybe the next Barack Obama or Donald Trump?"

Washington, who is also president and a founder of the Social Justice Training Institute that "provides a forum for the professional and personal development of social justice educators and practitioners to enhance and refine their skills and competencies to create greater inclusion for all members of the campus community," has said he had an interesting pathway to his own "journey to wellness."

"My own journey as a Black, same-gender-loving man brought me, years ago, into a church whose pastor never uttered a condemning word. Outside the pulpit, the pastor was gentle and supportive. Inside the pulpit, he wasn't gay-hateful, but neither was he gay affirming.

"For years, I thought that was the best I could hope for in a Black church experience. At least, I thought, they weren't condemning me to hell. Being silent, just not talking about it, felt like enough.

"But then a new pastor arrived who was hateful and hurtful. When a youth said to me, 'She's killing us!' I realized that all those years of neglect had left me unequipped to stand up to abuse.

"Later, during Bible study, when the preacher said, 'homosexuals make God vomit,' that 'God didn't create no homosexuals,' that same child asked, 'Well, who created them?'

"The pastor and others then descended on the child, and in that moment, I found my voice. I heard the Spirit saying to me, 'Don't you dare let them do this to the child. I know you better speak up.'

"That was when I understood my call to speak the truth, to protect our children from misguided judgments and ill-informed readings of Journey Scripture."

Washington earned master's degrees in higher education administration and counseling with a concentration in human sexuality from Indiana University Bloomington; a doctoral degree in college student development with a concentration in multicultural education from the University of Maryland, College Park; and a master of divinity from Howard University's School of Divinity.

He has served as an educator and administrator in higher education for more than 20 years, most recently as the assistant vice president for student affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. An ordained minister, he has served as an instructor in sociology, American Studies and education and women's studies.

As he crisscrosses the country speaking to various groups - corporations, governmental agencies, religious congregations and those in higher education - Washington continually sees a common thread ... eggshells.

"Everyone is walking on them," he said. "People don't know what or how to say what they want when it comes to diversity. There is a real lack of knowledge on just how to start the conversation and when the possibility of controversy and emotion becomes part of the equation, people shut down before they've even begun to talk.

"Most people don't feel equipped to speak about these topics or to listen even when given the opportunity. When you consider the mere fact that I'm being invited to help facilitate these discussions, it's easy to see that people want to be inclusive and want to care about each other, the issues at hand and the perspective of others, they just don't always know how to engage one another. At the heart of it all, and it's rather simple, is just listening."

Washington, named by The Economist as one of the top 10 global diversity consultants in the world, said that in addition to listening, there needs to be an understanding that inevitably, conflict will be part of the conversation as it is with all relationships.

"There is no way to build a more inclusive world without there being conflict and discomfort," he said. "But that is all part of our growth as people. Think about your co-workers, your partner, your siblings ... you enjoy being with them and building those relationships, but is every day a happy day? Certainly not.

"We're are all fully functional individuals with our own views and concerns and when you pair us up or put us in a group, disagreements will arise. It's how you deal with those disagreements that shape how your world will be.

"In order to that, we have to just slow down, breath, listen, sit back and know that there is deeper understanding that will help all of us get to a better place. Our country is facing a lot of challenges at the moment and yes, we are a country divided by a great many things, but it's not hopeless."

MEDIA CONTACT: Robb King | 724.738.2199 | robert.king@sru.edu