How Denzel Washington’s Mother Saved Him From the Streets and Put Him on the Right Path
Denzel Washington is one of the most talented American actors and directors. He has been acting in movies since the 1980s and continues to captivate audiences with outstanding performances. He owes his success to his mother, who helped change his bad habits and directed him toward the right path.
Denzel Hayes Washington Jr. was born on December 28, 1954, in Mount Vernon, New York. He had two siblings. His father, Denzel Sr., was a preacher, and his mother, Lennis, owned a beauty salon.
His parents divorced when he was 14 years old. At the time, some of his friends were going down the wrong path. But his mother was determined to save her boy, so she got him out before he could make any foolish mistakes. She transferred Denzel to a private school in the northern part of the state. Washington later said, “That decision changed my life because I wouldn’t have survived in the direction I was going. They were nice guys, but the streets got them.”
In addition, he spent a lot of time during his childhood at the local Boys & Girls Club, which also had a big impact on him. He believes that the club provided him with a safe place to go after school, and he is grateful for the caring mentorship and support he received there. And the actor has been its national representative for 30 years.
At the age of 11, Denzel’s mother got him a job at a barber shop. It was there that he received his first acting lessons from the shop’s owner, Jack Coleman, and his customers. In addition to the $11 he earned sweeping floors and cleaning collars, he learned a lot about the craft of acting because “the best liars are in the barbershop.”
But Denzel Washington discovered his love and talent for performing when he worked as a creative director at a summer camp in Lakeville, Connecticut. He participated in talent shows there for vacationers, and a colleague suggested he try acting.
Denzel Washington with his wife Paulette and mother Lennis at the Academy Awards, 1990
Lennis Washington always taught her children to distinguish right from wrong. Denzel said that if he could give his 15-year-old self some advice, it would be: “Listen to your mother!” Her wisdom proved invaluable, even decades later. When he was 59, she told him, “Denzel, you do a lot of good. You have to do good the right way and you know what I’m talking about.” Eventually, the actor gave up all his bad habits.
Denzel is grateful to his mother Lennis for bringing him back down to earth when his name became famous. He shared, “I remember coming home one time and feeling full of myself and talking, ’Did you imagine all this? I mean, I’m a star.’ And she’s, like, ’Oh, please. First of all, you don’t know how many people have been praying for you and for how long.’ Then she told me to get the bucket and the squeegee and clean the windows.”
In June 2021, Denzel Washington’s mother passed away at the age of 97. They had a very strong bond. Once, during an interview, he became very emotional when they talked about her, and with tears in his eyes, he said that a mother is a son’s first true love. He is grateful to her for being there for him during important moments in his life.
As advice, the actor urged people to “hug” and “love” those who are dear to them while they still can.