Former NFL Player Donald Washington gives back through Youth program Smooth Transition
SFND MAG: Mr. Donald Washington! How are you good sir? We are certainly appreciative of the time you took out of your schedule to be a part of this issue.
DONALD WASHINGTON: I appreciate the good vibes, I’m doing great. I hope this finds the readers peaceful with good vibes as well.
SFND MAG: For our audience, who may not know you right off the bat; give us a little background on yourself. You are originally from Indianapolis, correct? What was it like growing up in Indiana?
DONALD WASHINGTON: Correct, I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana. Indiana is unique in its own way like most places. I grew pretty much right in the middle of Indy, right next to the state fairgrounds, one of the rougher parts of Indy at the time. A lot of drugs and violence in my early childhood, all around
me. And as I got older and start to realize what was going….gentrification was happening in my neighborhood while I was growing up as well. I grew up in the “ghetto.” My house was ghetto, and so were most people. [LAUGHS] I don’t want to go into too much detail but I had a very rough upbringing. VERY ROUGH.
SFND MAG: Growing up in such a tough environment, at what point did you realize that playing football maybe your ticket out?
DONALD WASHINGTON: Actually growing up in Indiana, which we like to consider it a “basketball state” I didn’t like football originally. I wouldn’t say that I hated it, but I never saw myself playing football. I was a “gym rat”. I used to play basketball by myself in my grandmothers backyard, pretending that
I’m Michael Jordan in my head. I used to use my imagination a lot when I was a kid and I used to see myself playing in the NBA really clear. Since as early as I can remember, I had dreams of going to the NBA. I didn’t start playing football until like 8th grade. I remember having a conversation with Coach Scheib, who was the varsity football coach at the time, about how I was going to quit football and just focus on basketball. He told me I was too young to put all
my eggs in one basket and that I should reconsider. So I did. [LAUGHS] When I entered High School I still had dreams of going to the NBA, I played varsity basketball my freshman year. As good as I was, I hated every minute of it. I could not stand playing basketball for Franklin Central. I was
the best player on the team from day 1, but I wasn’t allowed to shoot or dribble basically. I would get taken out of the games for shooting the ball. The only thing they wanted me to do was rebound and set screens. I was cool on that. Basketball was my first love, but after my sophomore year in high school I no longer wanted to play. Ironically, I received my first football scholarship after my sophomore year, and that’s when I started to shift my focus to football. It
was no looking back. My football coach was trying to help me get to the NFL, he understood what my reality was at home and said he was going to do everything in his power to help me change it.
SFND MAG: So you played at Ohio State on a full scholarship and were a 4th round draft pick to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. Describe to us the feeling of finally knowing that your dreams of playing in the NFL had finally come true.
DONALD WASHINGTON: It was surreal honestly. I can just remember crying. I was sitting in my apartment that I had during college with family and a few friends when I got the call. My agent called my phone about an hr before I was drafted, it was during the 3rd round, and he said KC is looking for a deal to move up and pick you in the third round. They couldn’t find one, so he called me back at the beginning of the fourth round and was like KC is about to take you with their next pick. But watching the draft was a nervous breakdown. I have anxiety really bad and every time my phone rang it cranked up a notch. But the call was very settling. It didn’t finally hit me until later that night, and I was sitting up in my apartment and I started voicing it. Like yo, I really just got
drafted. I was used to a life where we lacked everything, it seemed like we never had enough. But when I got drafted I never had that feeling so my spirit kind of felt renewed. Tough to put into words.
SFND MAG: So many young people have dreams very similar to yours of being professional athletes. What kind of advice do you typically give to kids wanting to take a path similar to the one you chose?
DONALD WASHINGTON: Your circumstances don’t define you. So you can’t always get caught up in what it looks like. Better days are there for you if you just believe that what you want can be yours. I’ve always had a strong sense of who I was, and that allowed me to identify my gifts at a young age, so knowing who you are is important as well because that helps you set realistic goals.
Not saying that I knew exactly who I was because I didn’t. But in my environment it was easy for me to see who I was not. I grew up around drug dealers and crackheads and I knew I wasn’t one of them so sports and school was the next best thing for me.
SFND MAG: Now that you have retired from your career in professional football, you have currently dedicated your efforts to serving our Youth through your nonprofit organization Smooth Transition. Tell us a little about the program.
DONALD WASHINGTON: Yes, smooth transition is very unique to me. It’s my baby; it was created from my experiences good and bad. I think it’s important that we teach people through our real experiences and be as transparent as possible. At the time when I started ST I was doing a lot of journaling/writing
with the hopes of publishing a book. I started working with Otterbein University, a school in Columbus OH, and we started taking that content and created a curriculum based on the life skills that I had learned through sports. My mission is to help young black reshape their mentality so that they can change their reality. It is a youth development program that targets
young men through the ages 0f 11-17, or usually middle and high school age young men.
SFND MAG: So you have designed a program that provides resources to underserved youth in the community in so many ways. What initially inspired you to step out and give back to the community in this way?
DONALD WASHINGTON: It was simple for me, I know what I needed at these years of my life. I didn’t know what or where I was going to eat after school. I grew up in a household with no running water and electricity most of the time. So I can relate to a lot of kids. I just want them to know someone cares and that they can be somebody. I also notice a need. There’s a community of people who
seem to always get overlooked, and Smooth Transition wants to shine a light on them.
SFND MAG: What are some of the resources that Smooth Transition provides for the youth and what progress have you all seen since opening in 2018?
DONALD WASHINGTON: Basic essentials, gift cards, back packs, school supplies, food, clothes, we also conduct weekly and biweekly in school mentoring sessions in various school districts with a selected group of young men from administration. In these sessions is where we talk about life skills and growing as men.
SFND MAG: How can others get involved and contribute to this foundation?
DONALD WASHINGTON: Yes. Subscribe to the website to stay up to date with events, and others ways to support,
SFND MAG: How can learn more about Smooth Transition on social media?
www.transitionsmooth.org. Follow us on instagram @smoothtransition.
SFND MAG: Once again, thank you so much Donald for interviewing with us. It has been a pleasure. We are definitely looking forward to seeing more growth in your organization as well as the amazing work that is being done at Smooth Transition. SFND MAG: Thank you my brother for what you are doing in your community. That in itself is So FN Dope!