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Friday, December 27, 2013

Isaiah Washington: A Man on a Journey

by Cyrus Webb

Whether we recognize it or not each one of us is heading towards something. It can be the fulfillment of a dream or if we choose to be apathetic, it will be the result of failure. No matter what position we hold or what we assume about ourselves, there is a journey we are on that will take us wherever we want to go.

The question becomes this: Will you be a better individual because of it?

I'm not a huge television person, and though I knew that actor Isaiah Washington had been on the hit tv series Grey's Anatomy and starred in several movies I wasn't that familiar with him and his body of work---that is until 2011. It was late that year that I saw a write-up about his book A Man from Another Land: How Finding My Roots Changed My Life. After reading it I felt compelled to not just write an review about the book but reach out to him for a conversation on the radio and the magazine.

I'm grateful that he agreed to both.

Isaiah Washington showed me and I think will demonstrate it for you as well the powerful of our individual platforms. He knows what it's like to succeed and to face challenges, but he is not one to quit. When I talked with him on the radio he was preparing for the release of his new project Blue Caprice at the Sundance Film Festival. The striking feature film debut of writer-director Alexandre Moors, Blue Caprice is a harrowing yet restrained psychological thriller about an abandoned boy lured to America into the shadows of a dangerous father figure. Inspired by true events, Blue Caprice investigates the notorious and horrific Beltway sniper attacks from the point of view of the two killers, whose distorted father-son relationship facilitated their long and bloody journey across America.

So how does Mr. Washington feel about the love his fans around the world continually have for him? "I'm still humbled by it and pleasantly surprised," he told me. "I'm still learning how fans are in the television world.  It's a powerful connection they develop with you. They don't let you go."

The gift that is his ability to bring characters to life and draw you in as a viewer in the process is something he realized through a mentor early in his career. "He said to me 'If you knew what you had you would mess it up.' I never really knew I had this gift until I started to have this dream about it." Whatever brought about the dream it proved to Isaiah that he could make this happen for himself---and that is exactly what he did.

Ever the professional but someone who knows what it's like to be in the spotlight and to have all eyes on him, I was curious as to how he kept the glare of celebrity from blinding him. His answer was real and more than I could have imagined he would share. "I made a huge mistake and forgot my place in the world and forgot that the world was looking at me and that I had this particular power and gift," he said, referencing the incident that occurred at the 2007 Golden Globes. "I was only thinking about myself in that moment. When you are in pain and in trauma you respond... In hindsight I realize that if I knew the power I had when I was on that hit show then things would have been amazingly different---but I wouldn't be able to have this conversation with you now."

That to me was a profound statement for him to make, but I think it is a great reminder for all of us. Bad things might be the doorway to the unbelievable blessings that are meant to be a part of your journey.

"Unfortunately for me in my ignorance," Washington continued, "I refused to accept my position as a role model. I know now that was a mistake. Any one who is afforded to live the lifestyle I have lived has the responsibility to share that. You always have to be cognizant of how you show up. Now I am aligned with that."

This revelation that Isaiah Washington has had, however, is not an excuse for us to forget that he is still just a man. "I believe this is true for all of us," he says. "It is the understanding how to play your position at any given moment in time. It's important to know that I'm a human being just like you, but I never want to lose sight of that part of my humanity. As long as you remain humble and connected to the idea that each of us are what I call perfect imperfection I can continue to do the things I say I want to do and leave a legacy that my family and friends can be proud of."

The biggest lesson for us is that you don't have to be a celebrity to have this type of epiphany about yourself and who you are in the world. "I have been given an extraordinary privilege," Washington told me, "but we all have been given a gift. We have to understand that each and every one of us has a divine purpose."

That brought us back to the film Blue Caprice. Washington told me "it's one of many films that I wanted to come on as a producer. I've experimented with different kind of challenges and roles. This particular film probably frightened me and challenged me the most." He plays John Allen Muhammad, the D.C. sniper. "I was out there on the cliff emotionally and put everything I had into it. I had to remove a lot of my own personal issues and try to find some humanity in it."

Isaiah Washington fans also got to see him this year in the Russ Parr-directed film The Undershepherd that premiered on TV One. He stars in the role of Lawrence “LC” Case, an ambitious and charismatic minister overcome by greed and ego who uses the pulpit to further his own agenda and ultimately lead his congregation astray.  LC’s best friend, Roland, starring Lamman Rucker, struggles to get his grassroots ministry off the ground and doesn’t enjoy the same level of success which generates controversy and conflict between the two men.

Regardless of what role you see him in, you can be sure that Isaiah Washington is making the most of every moment on his journey. The amazing privilege we have now is the take the road along with him.

You can stay in touch with the actor in real-time on Twitter at Through that social media tool he is interacting with his fans and keeping them abreast of all his new happenings. "I think Twitter is like the new African drum," Washington told me. "It's an amazing tool. When you beat it properly you can actually change the world."

*Note: All photos used in this feature were provided and approved by Mr. Washington. Conversations Magazine owns no copyright to the images.

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