You probably are a fan of many movies starring Denzel Washington. He is one of the most prominent movie stars in the world. Some of his acting roles over more than 20 years influence people’s views about issues in stories told in those movies. But acting is not his primary way of motivating or influencing people. In interviews, he frequently says acting is just a way of making a living.
Denzel believes his real life’s work is to take opportunities to make a difference in other people’s lives, and he says it is fulfilling. In “A Hand to Guide Me,” a book he authored in 2006, Washington explains that success is not dependent on personal accomplishments but, instead, what people do with those accomplishments to make life better for others.
Acting on his belief in the importance of using one’s success to leave the world a better place, he focuses much of his philanthropic activities on influencing children and youth. In interviews and “A Hand to Guide Me,” he says, “I can’t think of a more noble or fulfilling mission than to guide our young children and lift them and set them down on the right path.”
He recalls how the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in Mount Vernon, N.Y. led him to have purpose and direction, go to college, and dream big about what he could accomplish. They helped him get where he is today, he believes, and now focuses much of his philanthropic activities on giving back to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. In addition to financial gifts, he served as the national spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America since 1993 and as a board member since 1995.
Guiding children is a focus of his areas of influence beyond the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He speaks at graduation ceremonies and motivates his audiences always to tell the truth and broaden their minds by reading a good book. He donated $1 million to Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund in 1995.
He got kicked out of college for low grades, but then he took a job at a YMCA summer camp where he had a role in a play, and leaders suggested he should consider acting. Later, he graduated from Fordham University with a B.A. in Drama and Journalism.
Other influencers in his childhood were his parents. His father was an ordained Pentecostal minister, and his mother owned a beauty parlor salon. They divorced when he was age 14, and his mother sent him to a military academy to change his environment and the influences from guys in the notorious streets of New York. Looking back, Washington recognizes that decision helped him stay out of trouble.
But he also credits his mother’s prayers for him in changing his life direction. In speeches to graduates, motivating them for future successful endeavors, Washington speaks of the importance of putting God first in everything. He says he starts every day with Bible reading and prayer.
Washington is as good at motivating others as he is at acting. Friends and colleagues talk about how he easily attracts people and inspires them. He gains their respect because of his honesty and his ability to empathize with them. His ability to influence others also stems from showing he cares. He is not pretentious and communicates openly about achieving goals. And his laughter is infectious.
He is committed to influencing others in their endeavors. Admittedly, he is best known for acting and received many awards including, the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, two Golden Globes awards, a Tony Award, and two Academy Awards. However, as he stated to Oprah in an interview, the acting business is not who he is. His spirituality leads his endeavors, and this moral mindset affects his selection of acting roles that he accepts. Early in life, he thought maybe he was supposed to become a preacher. Today, he “preaches” through his acting roles, his efforts to guide children, and all sorts of activities to motivate others to do as he does – use their accomplishments to make life better for others.