Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington Shares His Insights
S. E. Williams
Everyone has a story to tell about how they earned their mettle, who they looked to as role models, who provided their inspiration and how they in turn, worked to pass those lessons on not only to their own progeny but to all within their sphere of influence who seek inspiration, motivation and at times, guidance.
When Governor Jerry Brown appointed Temecula City Councilman Chuck Washington to fill an open position on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in 2015, and Washington accepted, he stepped into the history books— becoming the first African American to serve in this capacity in Riverside County.
Washington’s appointment was far from gratuitous. He had served in the public sector for many years, including as Mayor and City Councilmember for the cities of both Murrieta and Temecula. His history of public service also extends to the California Association of Councils of Governments, Western Riverside Council of Governments, Riverside County Airport Land Use Commission, Temecula Chamber of Commerce, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity of Inland Valleys, Temecula Economic Development Corporation, the Inland Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and others.
Washington’s history of public service, however, did not begin there. He also served his country as a Navy Officer and Naval Aviator, spent twenty-four years as a commercial airline pilot and is also a former bank vice-president.
This year, Washington led a field of candidates in the June 7th Primary with 40 percent of the vote in an effort to secure his supervisorial seat for another term. He will face-off against challenger Shellie Milne in November.
As Washington prepares for the election, he took time to share his reflections on the important role American fathers play in the lives of their children. He brings a universal perspective as a father and a unique perspective as the first and only African American in an elevated position of local leadership in the Inland Empire. When appointed Supervisor, he espoused a vision for the county as a safe place to raise families. As a husband, father and grandfather this remains among his top priorities.
When asked about his own father’s influence in his life, Washington shared he had just recently reflected on this question in preparation to deliver a commencement address. “I was reflecting on how much the world has changed in my lifetime,” he began. “My parents grew up in Mississippi in the 30’s and 40’s. My dad was accepted to Howard University Medical School—the only place a Black man could go at that time. My father was taught to value education and my parents assured that my older brother and I went to college in Jackson, Mississippi. Now,” he continued, “kids have so many things to think about in regards to their lives.”
Washington went on to paint a picture of how change is occurring at such a rapid pace. “A hundred years before I was born, slavery was the law of the land. Fifty years before I was born, women did not have a right to vote. Certainly, more has changed in the last 25 to 50 years than in the previous 500 years.”
He continued, “When you are in the midst of change you do not think about it so much. Now, I’m where I am in my life, I think about the sacrifices so many made that gave me my opportunities. My dad passed away 17 years ago. I don’t know if I appreciated then, all he went through and what he tried to teach us.”
“At this point in my life, being an African American, those things are more poignant for me than it might be for someone who is not African American. I went on to be an officer in the navy and an airline pilot—even the Tuskegee airmen were not allowed to come back and consider being an airline pilot as a career choice—but, they blazed that trail for all of us. I never had a greater appreciation for my dad and what he did for me—he created a path forward,” Washington affirmed.
When asked about being a father in his own right he did not hesitate. “One of the greatest joys of my life has turned out to be my marriage to my wife Kathy for 42 years, my daughter Lindsey, and the life we have enjoyed together–first, the two of us and then the three of us.” He described it as a small little family unit of love. “I’m sure a lot of people say the same thing, being a parent teaches you about unconditional love. We grew together and experienced things together.”
Washington reflected on the memory of teaching his daughter to ride a bike without training wheels when she was only 4 years old and contrasted it to her asking him to take her sky-diving when she was 20. “Now, my daughter is a mother herself and we have two grandchildren. I’m having that joy and love all over again.”
The titles of husband, father and grandfather mean more than any official title, Washington explained. He also stressed how honored he feels that people want him to represent them. “I try to do it with a servant’s heart, to remain humble and be sincere.”
Less than 50 percent of Riverside’s Third District is comprised of people of color. Washington is sensitive to their needs just as he is attuned to the needs of all of his constituents. “I represent everyone and I think, two positive things occur. First, people who are not minorities have a different image of an African American man—when they see me in office it helps break down stereotypes.” Secondly, it provides an opportunity for him to be an a visible role model for his constituents of color.
“About a year ago, a young African American male about 16 years-old, wanted to come in and say hello to me. I just hugged him and told him not to put limits on himself. There will be other people who will do that–ignore them, I said.”
Washington supports programs that help improve the quality of life for all of his constituents and at times, these programs can be of particular benefit to minorities. For example, as a member of the First 5 Commission, the group recently considered a grant application to provide swim lessons. “A group came in and demonstrated that minorities have a higher risk of drowning because there are limited opportunities for them to learn how to swim due to socio-economic conditions and lack of access to swimming pools.”
Washington and the other members of the Commission supported the initiative. As a result, this year parents and children can receive free swim and safety instruction at YMCA’s across the county—an effort to prevent accidental youth drowning. “My daughter put my granddaughter in swimming lessons when she was three years old,” Washington shared. “I became convinced of how important this is.” For more information on this program visit ymcarc.org/swim/.
Washington has advocated on behalf of similar programs in the past. “Whenever there is an opportunity to do those kinds of things, to weigh in and lobby for efforts to save minority lives, I do.”
“My supporters have heard me say many times over, we are all the same whether we are from a small town in the Middle East, a West African village or a community somewhere in Indiana. People get up in morning, put breakfast on the table for their children and head off to work. We all want the same things—to provide for our families and live in a safe community.”
On the issues of fatherhood, families and marriage Washington is one politician who leads by example. “I go out of my way to talk up marriage,” he explained and shared a belief that his generation needs to promote marriage to the millennials. “We should tell them about the joys of marriage. We need more uplifting messages about marriage and family because in the long run, the families we create and the children we procreate are our contributions to the human race—I pass something of value on to my daughter and she passes it on to her children and so on. When we bring children into the world, we sustain the human race and pass on the values and traits we need.”