In their own words: Lawrence Washington on Black History Month
As we celebrate Black History Month throughout February, we look toward leaders in tennis who are working to spread this sport far and wide, reaching deep into communities to impact youth on many levels. This month, you'll meet volunteer leaders who are telling their first-person stories and who recognize the influences family, friends, teachers and coaches have had on the direction their lives and careers have taken—and how that direction is positively impacting the newest generations. Today, meet Lawrence Washington.
“Be your authentic self.” Those are words my parents, Shelia and Terrell Washington, instilled in me early on, and they’re words that continue to influence my life every day.
I hope that, by being my authentic self both on the court and off, I’m able to help set an example for others coming from similar backgrounds. Being a Black tennis player comes with its challenges, including being accepted by your peers and, frankly, by the industry itself, such as when looking for a coach. But my parents always urged me to play to the best of my ability and to keep pushing.
And I was also so fortunate to have Joe Goldthreate as a coach and mentor. As many of you know, Joe, a legendary tennis coach in Nashville, is a member of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame, and before his involvement in youth tennis, was involved with Civil Rights marches, including marching with John Lewis and other leaders. Joe truly believed in my abilities and in me as a person first, and a tennis player second—and his mentorship made a huge difference in all aspects of my life.
Growing up, I played USTA junior events, high school tennis and college tennis at Tennessee State University, an HBCU, where I played No. 1 singles. I also played on the ITF Pro Circuit for a time, then was a volunteer assistant tennis coach at Howard University.
After Tennessee State, I started volunteering with the USTA Mid-Atlantic section, then started volunteering on the national level. I was the chair of the National Tennis on Campus Committee (and a former vice chair of TOC) and currently am the chair of the USTA Nominating Committee. (In my early 30s, I’m the youngest Nominating Committee chair in USTA history.) On the local level, I’m president of the Metropolitan Tennis and Educational Group, an NJTL in Montgomery County, Md.
In tennis—especially at the volunteer level—you meet people from all backgrounds who each bring a unique perspective to all sorts of issues. I’ve learned from so many of these people. Their versatile styles of thinking not only come together for the good of tennis, but it’s helped me to successfully navigate the business world. I’m currently the director of structured underwriting and credit at Freddie Mac, and a few years ago, I was honored to be named by The Network Journal as a “Top 40 Under 40 in Business.”
For me, Black History Month is important because representation matters. When I was growing up, I looked to the Williams sisters, James Blake and others—the barriers they broke really inspired me. When you start to see people who look like you, who come from similar backgrounds, enjoying success in all types of fields and pursuits, it’s hugely important.
I grew up in a predominantly white community, which presented its own set of challenges. You adapt to the culture that surrounds you, and I would get teased, for instance, for speaking “too properly.” It was difficult growing up because I always felt I was straddling racial lines. On the tennis court, that often caused confusion for me as a youngster.
And that’s where my parents’ support and “be your authentic self” comes in. It’s shaped who I am today—growing up, on the court, with my career in corporate America and with my trajectory with the USTA.