New Scholarship Honors Legacy of Faculty Pioneer John T. Washington

John T. Washington, his wife, Louise, son, Terence, and Jim Lawrence

A notable figure from UCF’s past is the inspiration behind a new scholarship created to help students build a brighter future.

The name John T. Washington is probably familiar to campus visitors walking through the breezeway named in his honor, but his connection to UCF less so. Washington, Ph.D., was one of the first African American faculty members at UCF, and a close friend of the new scholarship’s founder, Carol Lawrence ‘71.

Lawrence was inspired to start the scholarship in the wake of national protests around the death of George Floyd. She chose Washington’s name to honor his memory, but also commemorate a friendship — and the man who served as minister of her wedding.

“John had a tremendous influence on this community. I think he would appreciate knowing his legacy was serving to build up students,” Lawrence said.

Carol and Jim Lawrence on their wedding day at Bok Tower Gardens.

Washington was an associate professor in the Department of Sociology when the then-rural school was called Florida Technological University. Robert Bledsoe, Ph.D., is a charter faculty member in the Department of Political Science, and regularly interacted with Washington. He describes Washington as a “sharp-dresser” with a “reserved and dignified” demeanor.

“I believe he felt strongly about being a role model. We had very few African American undergraduates, and if he wasn’t the first African American faculty member, he was one of the first,” Bledsoe explained.

In an interview with Central Florida Future, Associate Professor Emerita Ida Cook, Ph.D., said UCF’s second president, Trevor Colbourn, “relied on Washington to tell him what could be done to assist minority faculty.”

“His goal as a citizen, as an individual, was to try and help to bring a more integrated participation into the African-American community,” Cook said.

The outcome of Washington’s advocacy includes UCF’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and the Office of Multicultural Academic and Support Services. In the city of Orlando, Washington served with several community organizations, including the Orlando Housing Community, the NAACP, the Orlando Metropolitan Urban League and the Mayor’s Minority Business Task Force.

Bledsoe said there are many areas academics can focus on in their career, and Washington chose community service as his calling card. His involvement in Orlando organizations translated into lessons for his students about the importance of using their strengths for the improvement of the community.

“As a professor, he wanted to make sure that his students knew they had the opportunity to make a difference, just as he was,” Bledsoe said.

Lawrence started the Dr. John T. Washington Leadership Scholarship, and is actively searching for others to contribute. The fund provides scholarships to student applicants who show a commitment to rectifying racial injustice or minority-based causes.

Washington died of a heart attack in 1983 at age 42. Lawrence distinctly remembers how many city leaders and influential community figures packed the sanctuary of First Baptist Church Orlando. Washington was a quiet man who let his actions speak for his character, Lawrence said.

“He was a true leader,” she said.

Click here to contribute to the Dr. John T. Washington Leadership Scholarship.



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