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This blog series ‘My Brand Story’ takes a look at some of the world’s most interesting and intriguing brands. I recently conducted a phone interview with Isaiah Washington and have greater insight into Isaiah, the person/the brand, not just the actor.
Who is Isaiah Washington? When asked, most people would immediately define him as an actor due to his powerful portrayals on stage and in movies. However, there is much more than meets the screen. Actor. Activist. Philanthropist. Father. Husband. All nouns that define him, but with each one a different meaning, a different role, a different responsibility, a different challenge.
Webster’s dictionary defines an actor as one who represents a character in a dramatic production or a theatrical performer.
At 23-years of age, he was in between jobs and searching for direction. He had just finished serving in the United States Air Force and was planning to attend the University of Maryland. It is at this point Isaiah had his defining moment. The light of direction and purpose came on when he saw Spike Lee’s, ‘She’s Got To Have It’. Compelled to go to Howard University, he went in search of the Howard Players - a theater company started by Ossie Davis that existed 40-years earlier. He ended up in a classroom on campus, looking at a picture on the wall of the Howard Players (now an internationally renowned marching band). Feeling stuck but on a mission, he enrolled in the university, with the ultimate goal of becoming an actor.
The Power of Words
As an actor, words are an important component of Isaiah’s being. As we talked, I gained greater insight into how the power of words has had impacted his life.
o A friend challenged him to audition for a gospel play, ‘Frank & Beans,’ while he was working at IBM as a temp. He auditioned and got the role.
o In 1988, while working as a founding member of City Kids Repertory, a youth came up to him and said matter-of-factly, “You don’t smoke crack.” With a puzzled look on his face, Isaiah asked the youth what he meant. “You look different.” This had a profound impact on his life by challenging his personal discipline and reinforcing the importance of saying ‘No’.
o Grey’s Anatomy a successful run impacted by words.
o Dr. Rick Kittles told him his DNA is linked to the country of Sierra Leone. Isaiah traced his maternal ancestry back to discover he is of Mende descent and makes the decision to visit his ancestral homeland.
In a series of events, the power of words has marked his path. His life is much more than a theatrical production to be contained in a single character on television. As a personal brand, you can’t compartmentalize your personal life and your professional work. Isaiah’s purpose as an African-American actor is to transcend boundaries, portray characters with multiple layers, and make a positive change through his artistry. In September, he will meet with Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic Sierra Leone, as he continues to build his relationship with his homeland.
As a father, he understands how his decisions affect the lives of his children. They attend private school and don’t watch much television. Isaiah advocates experience, the importance of having a beat up passport and a world view of life. His oldest son has traveled to 23-cities, 9-countries, and has had a passport since he was 3-months old.
On a global level, he spends a lot of time with charitable organizations. Inspired by the discovery of his direct genetic link to the Mende people of Sierra Leone, The Gondobay Manga Foundation was born. His foundation advocates cooperative planning to achieve positive, timely improvements in the lives of the people of Sierra Leone.
As I look at Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, they have both moved beyond making money. They are focused on making a difference and living a life of significance. Significance is not a paycheck. Significance is not a role. It is the legacy you leave. It is the footprint you make and the lives you impact. After talking to Isaiah, I could sense the same focus with a desire to live a life of significance.
The power of words has definitely steered Isaiah Washington’s life. If we truly reflect on our lives, the power of words has changed us all.
What’s your brand story?
Isaiah Washington (My Brand Story Blog Post) Originally uploaded by Hajj Flemings