Dr. Rodney Washington is a man of many accomplishments, especially in the field of education (you can read more about him at his bio below). But we wanted to talk to him about his experiences and accomplishments as a dad.
Washington is the youngest of 8 children, “born and raised in the Mississippi Delta in Holmes County” and the father of two adult children and the grandfather to three. He became a father as a very young man and laughingly says he wasn’t nervous at all about becoming a dad: “There were no nerves about the parenting part—I was woefully naïve about that, about what it entailed.” But he soon learned the reality: “I was very young; I was 19 headed toward 20 when I had my daughter. It was very challenging.”
Washington says that it was the support of the people around him that enabled him to make fatherhood work while he went to college. “I felt supported with my family, but not in terms of systems. I wasn’t supported as a single father in the way that a single mother would have been – so either I had to find it or it wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, I was supported by amazing people, people that I worked with, older women at my job would keep my daughter for me. I had to take my daughter to class sometimes. But I didn’t get anything from systems. I just don’t think systems are geared towards black men actively engaging.”
As an African American father, he says it’s important to him that he shares his experience with other dads, especially to counter some of the stereotypes about males of color and their lack of engagement. “You find yourself fighting back some of those stereotypes that are already out there. I know the black men in my circle are very engaged in their children’s lives, but you don’t get that in national narratives. No dad willingly wants not to be engaged with their children.”
Washington also thinks it’s important for young parents to learn how to co-parent, especially if they’re not together, and shared his own personal experience. “I wish as a young dad I had really considered some of those antagonistic exchanges, that they could have been handled in a better way for the benefit of bringing the child up. So that the child can still get the best of both parents and not feel put in the middle of a relationship.”
At the end of our interview with Dr. Washington, which took place a week after the murder of George Floyd and not long after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery became nationally known, we asked him about his dreams for his children and grandchildren, and how events such as these affected them.
“These videos are so graphic, and you always see yourself as George Floyd, you always see yourself as Ahmaud Arbery. I’m a runner, and I was really shaken by that. As a black man, you try to think ahead and understand your setting and your space. And then you try and come up with what you think will be the best way to navigate that. And you get so exhausted trying to think of other people’s behavior that way. And so I’m concerned that whether it’s my son that is 24 or my grandson that is 2, they still have to deal with the same things that I had to.
And that is a heavy burden for people of color to wrestle with daily.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Mississippi Valley State University, Dr. Washington earned his master’s degree in criminology and justice services and then his Ed.D. in early childhood education at Jackson State University. He was formerly a faculty member at Jackson State University, where he chaired the elementary and early childhood education department. He recently joined the University of Mississippi Medical Center faculty as an associate professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences. He has also been recognized as a Robert Woods Johnson culture of health leader.
Dr. Washington first worked with Families as Allies on our early childhood initiative (BUDS), and since then he has continued his relationship with us and supported our organization.