Ever since my 1955 arrival in Washington, I’ve been a Redskins fan. I’m not alone. This town obsesses about its football team. Even when the Nats, our baseball team, made it into the playoffs this fall for the first time in eons, we paid more attention to the impending introduction of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. We hoped he’d lead the team back to the glory days of the 1980s under coach Joe Gibbs.
Griffin has lived up to the hype. An article in yesterday’s Washington Post asked if fans had finally found “The One” — “an athlete so brilliant, so likable, so rooted over time in the region’s culture [that] he would lift the entire community.” If you don’t live here, you may think the assessment sounds over the top. Not us.
As much as I enjoyed reading more about RGIII, what impressed me most was the feature’s portrayal of his mother, Jacqueline Griffin.
Washington, DC — “Chocolate City”
Though no longer true, Washington, DC was for years the largest U.S. city with a majority African American population. Its nickname “Chocolate City” came from the 1975 hit song by Parliament. Soon after April’s National Football League draft, Griffin’s parents were watching ESPN at home in Copperas Cove, Texas. An announcer referred to Washington as “Chocolate City.” Here’s how Jacqueline Griffin reacted:
I said, “What does that mean?” My husband started laughing. We love our race, don’t get me wrong. We wouldn’t change it for the world. But I had no idea that Washington was called Chocolate City. I was totally oblivious to that. So was my son. We just don’t talk about race in here.
I Wish We All Raised Our Kids This Way
RGIII’s parents, Jacqueline and Robert Griffin, Jr., grew up in New Orleans and, as teenagers, enlisted in the Army. They did tours of duty in Okinawa, Japan (where their son Robert III was born) and Korea before retiring and settling in Copperas Cove, outside the Fort Hood army base. From the start, they chose to raise their children — Robert has two older sisters — to be color blind.
Washington’s memorials to Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR and Martin Luther King all feature inscriptions with memorable quotes. Years from now when we erect the RGIII monument, I hope it will include some quotes from Jacqueline Griffin. Here’s what she says about her children:
They can thrive in any environment they’re in, because they don’t see color — which is something we really strive for in our lives. It’s not about somebody’s race — it’s about humanity. And God wants to love everybody no matter what their background. I don’t want them to see color. It’s not about that. Any experience we had dealing with racism, we always told our kids, “You learn from that. Don’t do that to others.”
And here’s what she says about RGIII’s emergence as a star quarterback at his small-town Texas high school:
It wasn’t an easy ride, by any means. You always have to prove yourself as an African American. We told him, “You’ve got to work hard. Nothing is going to be given to you…. If you work hard at everything you do, no one’s going to see your race.” People were saying Copperas Cove would never endorse an African American quarterback. But we as an African American family who didn’t believe in race, and didn’t raise our kids that way, didn’t want him to have that mind set.
So we continued to instill in him that it’s not about race. It’s about performance on the field…. And once they saw [how good he was], the whole community embraced it.
Video Interview with Jacqueline Griffin
Here’s a video interview with Ms. Griffin, shot as a promo for her new venture as a motivational speaker: