Celebrating Local Black Heroes: Von Washington Jr. (Video)
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Michigan is proud to celebrate Local Black Heroes in honor of Black History Month. Join us on social media and our website throughout February to learn more about the impact of local heroes in your community.
When Von Washington Jr. graduated from Western State College of Colorado in 1990 as a Communications/Theater major, he never imagined being where he is today. As the Executive Director of Community Relations for the Kalamazoo Promise, Washington shares, “I didn’t go to college to do this. It was a byproduct of having that degree.”
At the Promise, Washington helps people to understand “the impact of investing in human capital and the education system…” He spends his time working with community, state, and national partners to understand what the Promise is, and how they can help students in their K-12 and post-secondary journey.
Teachers as Inspiration
When asked to identify who in his life has inspired him, Washington shares that it was the teachers he had in school. He explains that they saw something in him that he couldn’t see and that they helped him “create focus and a direction.” Washington mentions that it wasn’t until several years later that he recognized the impression those educators left.
“My life’s mission.”
Washington’s passion for giving back to the community and philanthropic nature are evident in the work he does. He explains, “Giving back… is the most important thing to do.”
Although Washington entertained more lucrative opportunities, he knew his heart was in helping youth transition into adulthood.
He has dedicated his life’s work to Kalamazoo and does his best to help someone every single day. He notes it may be directly, for example by donating things to Goodwill, or simply by recycling as a way to “preserve your community.” Washington affirms that giving back doesn’t have to be profound to make a difference.
Helping others realize their goals is one of Washington’s favorite things to do. Washington identifies that the challenges he has encountered in life are part of his driving force. He wants to make sure others don’t have to face the challenges that he did, if he can help it.
Growing up, Washington’s parents were careful to never force their opinions on him. Their thoughtful approach allowed him to form his own thoughts and opinions without interference.
Washington recounts that while they always encouraged him to be safe, they never stopped him from spending time with anyone, no matter who they were. Washington shares that his parents’ careful awareness of their impression allowed him to see everyone as a valuable, contributing member to society. He lives out this value to this day.
The Ultimate Legacy
Washington hopes that one day people will say, “He dedicated his life to others.” This “ultimate compliment” is embodied by Washington’s selfless willingness to advocate for the youth of Kalamazoo, and his desire to serve those around him. His dedication to changing the human condition in any way he can leaves a lasting impression on everyone Washington meets.
Find Local Black Heroes throughout the month of February on social media and on our website. Visit ThinkBigToday.org/Volunteer for more information about how you can ignite the power and potential of youth in Southwest Michigan.