Photo: Pictured above, Chairman Washington smiles for the camera after discussing his hopes and goals for Etowah County.
By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
On Jan. 7, the Etowah County Commission appointed District 5 Commissioner Jeffrey Washington commission chairman. As the gavel was passed to Washington, a new opportunity arose for the 2020 chairman to better the community he considers home.
Born and raised in Etowah County, Washington grew up mostly in Attalla before he moved to Gadsden for his ninth-grade year of high school. He graduated from Litchfield High School in 1986 and attended Gadsden State Community College afterward, where he developed a passion for sports medicine after taking a manager scholarship under basketball coach Dan Cook. The Hughston Foundation, a Columbus GA clinic began a manager training program directed towards college students pursuing careers in athletic training. Washington attended a week seminar where he met Dr. Jack Hughston, the clinic’s founder and former New York Giants athletic trainer Jim Madaleno and learned how to evaluate and treat injuries.
Washington transferred his acquired knowledge into high school clinics for The Hughston Foundation doctors to treat patients, since orthopedic surgery was not widely available in the Etowah County area. Through Washington’s work with The Hughston Foundation and his studies at Gadsden State, he transferred to the University of West Alabama (then Livingston) and furthered his medical education under Dr. R.T. Floyd, who Washington considers one of the best trainers he has ever known.
Despite Washington’s inability to receive funding to complete his degree, his determination and work ethic led him to become a licensed athletic trainer in Alabama. Since then, Washington served students, families and individuals in the Etowah County community not only treating injuries but striving to prevent injuries through strength training and specified workouts that enhance athletes’ abilities. In each school and with each athlete, Washington dedicated himself to improvement and enacting positive change.
“I believe that every athlete has a purpose and every person has a purpose,” Washington said. “The joy of this is when you find that athlete and he buys into the process of becoming better, he becomes greater and the only thing that stops him is himself. My thing was with each school [I thought] how could I improve the program to make the program better.”
Bettering athletic programs and medical health are only one faction of Washington’s dream to improve Etowah County. Growing up in the 1970s in a community on the verge of change and ignorance concerning issues like segregation, Washington recalls racial fights at high schools and educated himself on what happened during Etowah County at that time. But perhaps Washington’s greatest strength lies in why he chose to serve his community first as commissioner and now as chairman—his love for people.
Washington accredits his love for people to his childhood when he was taught politeness, kindness and respect for others. He describes himself as someone with a love for people innately in his nature and despite who they are, Washington treats each individual with unwavering respect. After seeing the unequal opportunities so many Etowah County residents face, Washington decided he could strive to change the inequality he saw and impact peoples’ lives for the better.
“I always wanted to be a part of that political area so that I could make a difference,” Washington said. “I don’t want to just be here and nothing happen. I want to make a difference.”
Washington’s chance to make that difference arrived when he found himself elected Etowah County Commissioner of District 5. When Washington ran for Etowah County Commission, his slogan was “It doesn’t matter who is right, as long as what is right prevails.” Regardless of who a person is or his or her background, Washington believes that if he or she needs assistance, it is his duty to help that person, because it is the right thing to do.
Patience is a virtue Washington learned during his first year as county commissioner and it is a virtue he will cling to as he transitions into his role as chairman. Entering the commission with two new commissioners who had not previously served and veteran commissioners who were seasoned in political knowledge, Washington and his fellow representatives learned to work together to develop change, first among themselves before they initiated change within the county.
Growing to view one another as peers and equals, the commissioners united themselves to understand that no district excels in importance over another, because despite living in different areas the problems Etowah County citizens face remain the same. Washington emphasizes that while sometimes doubt enters in to suggest that things are not working out for the good of the county, commissioners must trust the process and remain diligent to enact change. Though change can cultivate slowly, Washington is willing to take the steps necessary to ensure success.
“I’ve learned that sometimes your idea is bigger than other people can see,” Washington said. “You have to be very patient to share your dreams and your goals in small portions for others to see where you’re going. But you can never stop believing in the dream, because the dream was given to you.”
Washington emphasizes that the only way dreams reach manifestation is if that dream is worked by a team of people who envision the end result. Through unification, sincerity bonds people together who believe in the same cause and want to accomplish the same goal. When a place of unification is reached, Washington believes that is when change happens, just as he experienced firsthand last year in collaborative efforts among the commissioners.
While Washington resides as commissioner for District 5, he considers himself responsible for Etowah County as a whole. During his term as chairman, Washington plans to focus on establishing cohesiveness between Etowah County municipalities to evaluate infrastructure, increase employment from businesses that provide benefits and high-paying incomes and enhance education throughout all districts, not just in one area. He believes that change occurs when people sit down together to discuss their needs and concerns and work together to help each other.
“I feel like if we’re going to make changes, it’s going to be at that table where we sit down and talk about Etowah County and what do we do to make Etowah County thrive,” said Washington. “By doing so, each municipality will thrive. To me it’s about a metropolitan cohesiveness where at the table mayors, councilmen and commissioners are sitting together putting together a strategic plan that will make Etowah County and our surrounding municipalities great. I think we have to put on the table that one common goal of working to develop Etowah County to give our constituents jobs, job security, an active lifestyle in our community with places and things to do that draw people here who want to come back and visit, that make our county attractive. What can we do to make it happen?”
As commission chairman, Washington’s responsibilities will shift, but his mindset of service to Etowah County as a whole remains steadfast. Washington describes the chairman as the spearhead of the commission, the go-to person who must ensure his fellow commissioners and constituents are informed on the latest news circulating throughout Etowah County and the districts.
For Washington, keeping Etowah County informed means telling the truth at all times and leaving nothing out. Positive, negative or otherwise, Washington digests all Etowah County news and ensures that he is thoroughly informed before he relays any information to others. He understands that accurate, responsible and consistent communication is key.
“I think the only way you can become a good political leader is to keep your constituents informed,” said Washington. “Informed people are educated people who make better choices and decisions because they know what is going on.”
Washington plans to setup a Facebook page that shares Etowah County information to the people directly and a podcast that gives regular updates. In the past, he attended meetings where he shared what was happening throughout Etowah County to residents. In the future, he invites constituents of all districts to attend commission meetings to adopt an informed approach towards their home and learn for themselves what occurs in their community.
Though Washington encourages others to learn about Etowah County, he welcomes the wisdom he will gain during his term as chairman. Rather new to the political world, Washington described the challenges he faced and overcame in understanding how public service works. He discovered that sometimes his ideas were too grand, and it was necessary to transform that one enormous dream into smaller goals that achieve the same beneficial outcome. As chairman, Washington will hone-in his expectations and redirect his energy and time to accomplish goals he knows will succeed.
Washington does not credit his accomplishments to himself alone. He recognizes the importance of surrounding himself with individuals who support him as he supports Etowah County. Recently married in August 2019, Washington values his wife Danielle as the main individual who stands beside him in all his endeavors, inspires him to become a better person and encourages him to perform his absolute best in each situation. For Washington, Danielle is a reminder to persevere and pursue his dreams. As he helps others, she helps him.
“You have to have that one individual, even when you’re down or out or things are not going the way you want, they still see hope when you’re about to give up,” said Washington. “The love they have for you transfers hope back into you. When [Danielle and I] met, she didn’t know I was running for county commissioner. When she found out, she just expressed how proud she was of me. I think I am a blessed man to have her by my side as my support mechanism. I thank God for her.”
The greatest joy Washington receives from his position as commissioner and now as chairman is when he knows something he does satisfies his constituents or changes a situation for the better. He sometimes rides throughout the neighborhoods in his district just to observe and evaluate community needs. During his first term as commissioner, Washington donated money out of a discretionary fund to schools for testing, athletic events, nonprofit organizations and abuse centers, all programs that improve the quality of peoples’ lives in Etowah County. Seeing how he helps others is his ultimate reward.
Washington hopes people will recognize him as a man of consistency and that his dedicated character will shine. He aspires to truly grow to know people—to develop a bond and relationship with Etowah County residents that establishes trust, even in those who have not met him personally. In his consistency and service to Etowah County, Washington vows to never deceive or mislead anyone and practice fairness towards all. His unwavering devotion and fortitude to produce positive change coincides with not only who he is as an athletic trainer, commissioner and chairman, but who he is as a person—a servant for the people he loves.
“That’s where my heart is, in wanting to serve people,” said Washington. “I think that if you do it right, people will see the sincerity in your heart that your desire is for them to have the best form of life possible. You can’t please everybody, but you have to do what you do to please everybody. In the long run, those who thought maybe you are against them or you weren’t for them [will know] I’m consistent with everyone the same exact way. So, I care. I care enough to want to make a true difference. I know it takes time, nothing happens overnight. But I can’t stop looking at the big picture for change in Etowah County.”