Monti Washington graduated from high school as one of the top students in his class. He received not one, but two, college degrees and magna cum laude honors. Washington wrote a book and currently works as an actor in Hollywood where he’s been on shows such as Tyler Perry’s Bruh. He’s been considered for roles in Marvel projects four times.
But you wouldn’t know Washington’s story just by looking at him. You don’t know how he grew up or what has happened in his life.
That’s exactly what Washington set out to prove and more in an interactive February 9 talk inside the Cleary Lecture Hall, part of Endicott’s celebration of Black History Month. Nearly 200 people were in attendance as the actor, poet, and writer made his way into the audience, delivering powerful spoken word poetry and engaging the community in conversation.
Washington had the audience tell each other that their life matters, starting off his “courageous conversation” about things that are difficult to talk about. Touching on the Black Lives Matter movement, Washington explained that instead of focusing on the humanity of a person killed by police brutality, people tend to focus on the “why?” and “what did they do?” This is connected to implicit bias and stereotypes, he noted.
Even saying “Black lives matter” is a divisive and uncomfortable statement, said Washington. Once you become an ally of any movement, you start to question yourself and how you contributed to the movement, if you stayed silent, if you didn’t contribute. In that way, he noted, it’s easier to say that all lives matter.
The actor also spoke candidly about his own life story—his mother struggled with addiction and Washington grew up in and out of group and foster homes. He struggled with his own mental health for years and encouraged the community to seek resources if they are depressed.
This brought Washington’s own story full circle: The only way to truly get to know someone is by having a meaningful interaction, he explained. And exploring your own biases, which we all have.
He also noted many people have not been exposed to people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious beliefs and therefore find it harder to understand those people.
“If I can distill you down to a stereotype and slap a label on you and dehumanize you, I can dismiss your feelings,” said Washington.
He then asked audience members to stand up if they ever felt like they’d been judged unfairly by the color of their skin or knew anyone who struggled with addiction or with mental health and anxiety.
“Just take a second look around at your peers, all these people that look different from you, come from different places,” said Washington. “See, most of the time you only make connections through likes, beliefs, values. But I think we connect most through our mess, not our success.”
Washington ended his talk with advice to student leaders at Endicott.
“Being open and being yourself is so very important. I find that when you share your story, your struggles, and your troubles, it connects with other people,” he said. “Hold yourself accountable, have goals, be able to listen, and always be willing to learn.”