Esquire (USA) : 2020-06-01



Washington memorized every line in the 1989 film Glory so that he could act out the parts Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and his father played. One Christmas, his dad had his Glory costume, a Union Army Civil War uniform, recut to fit his young son. Washington almost never took it off. Now the whole damn world seemed to love his dad. By the time he got to high school, Washington had become something of a “smart-ass” (his word). Nothing serious. He made jokes in class and got a little disruptive—enough that his high school art teacher, Elizabeth Tremante, sought the advice of another teacher, a friend of the Washington­s’. The friend recommende­d she try to connect with the teen over his family’s art collection. Didn’t go over well. “When I suggested that he write about a favorite piece from this collection for a class assignment, he responded acidly, ‘Sure, maybe you can just come to my house so my father can give you a tour,’ ” Tremante remembers. “Even though it was hard to hear him say that, I felt like he was telling me something important.” In that moment, she had tremendous compassion for him; how is the teenage son of a great craftsman to carve out an identity for himself? “He was raw, smart, and idiosyncra­tic; he had a lot to say as an artist, and I urged him to continue painting in college,” Tremante says. “JD was a star athlete in high school, but I always referred to him as a painter.” As a high school art student, he focused on challengin­g stereotype­s of young black men through his work. One piece—inspired by his own driver’s license but featuring a character with a full Afro, a gold tooth, a gold chain, and a big earring— stands out in his mind still. In the painting, Washington’s name is listed as “D’wan Nigg.” Race: “Negro,” and in the place of across the top it read “I said every time we get pulled over, this is what the cop sees,” Washington says. “They don’t see an actual name; they don’t care that I’m a student or any of that. They see a D’wan Nigg. That’s not my name; my name is John David Washington.” CALIFORNIA AFRICALIFO­RNIAN. CHAPTER TWO His colleagues said it was a worthless mission: No way was Morehouse athletic director Andre Pattillo going to get Washington to come play for the school. It wasn’t known as a football powerhouse, and Washington, a standout running back, had just played in the high school All-American game and was considerin­g San Jose State, Grambling, maybe even a spot at UC Berkeley. But Pattillo was confident, flying to Los Angeles from Atlanta to meet Washington and watch him play. When Pattillo offered him a football scholarshi­p, CHAPTER THREE