Dewayne and Adama Washington’s journey together began at NC State.
From the time they met as undergraduate students, and even as Dewayne’s 12-year career as an NFL player took them to different cities, the university has remained a touchpoint and a source of support and community.
Once he retired from football in 2005 and the couple settled in the Triangle, their ties to NC State strengthened. Both have been engaged as donors and as volunteers, including Dewayne’s current term on the Board of Trustees. Adama recently has served as a lecturer in the School of Social Work and has begun work on a doctorate in educational equity in the College of Education.
Now the alumni pair has made a $1 million commitment to benefit the Wolfpack athletics program and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Through a bequest and current-use gifts, they are giving back to two areas that have made profound impacts on their own lives.
The Washingtons’ pledge is establishing the Adama Tyndle Washington Graduate Award Endowment and the Adama Tyndle Washington Undergraduate Scholarship Endowment, each of which will provide need-based awards to School of Social Work students, with preference for recipients who have demonstrated interest in equity, diversity or social justice.
They are creating the Washington Family Scholars Network Endowment, designed to help the College of Humanities and Social Sciences enhance diversity and be purposeful in its recruitment, retention and support efforts, particularly initiatives focused on the Black or African American community. That fund can underwrite summer transitional programming for students, speaker events, career and professional development, stipends for faculty mentors or graduate student assistants, and more.
The gift also will name the Dewayne Washington Football Locker Room within the Murphy Football Center and support student-athlete scholarships in the football program.
Overall, the Washingtons said they hope to expand opportunities and experiences for students, particularly those from groups underrepresented in higher education, by ensuring that financial barriers don’t derail dreams. They want to help deepen the sense of community that helped them thrive at the university.
“We want to see even more racially and ethnically diverse students graduate from NC State, and even more students achieve at high levels,” Adama said. “We want to broaden mentorship efforts and foster that village feeling that was so important to us.
“We love NC State’s dedication to excellence, and it starts at the top. Chancellor (Randy) Woodson has been consistent and bold in how he represents NC State, and in his commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and student support.”
The Washingtons’ gift is very personal. They would love to inspire similar philanthropy in others – including their three children.
“Hopefully, even more alumni will step up, especially former student-athletes,” Dewayne said. “I hope other people will see a need, or recognize whatever area they’re passionate about, and give to support that.”
A Shared History
Building community is a recurring theme for the Washingtons.
Adama grew up in Lawndale, a small town in western North Carolina’s Cleveland County. Someone from her hometown had attended NC State, which got it onto her short list of colleges under consideration as a high school student eager to embrace the larger world.
“I came from a hard-working family and knew I would stay in state for school,” she said.
She started out studying business at NC State but soon switched her major to social work. Adama’s parents ran a family care home while she was growing up and raised her, she said, to help and serve others.
“When I was an undergraduate student, I worked several campus jobs, and I participated in on- and off-campus community service activities. Some of those experiences, along with my upbringing, tugged at my heart. From the moment I got involved in the social work program, everyone there was so helpful and so supportive. Faculty like Linda Williams were such incredible mentors. I loved it.”
A couple of years earlier, the slightly older Dewayne, a Durham native, had drawn recruiting attention from across the ACC as a football standout at Northern Durham High School. In the end, a deciding factor for joining the Wolfpack was staying close enough for his mother to easily watch him play.
The decision also led him to his most important teammate.
Adama and Dewayne officially met around the start of the 1993 fall semester as they headed to classes in the since-demolished Harrelson Hall, after noticing each other at a couple of off-campus social functions.
Both have fond memories of a small but tightknit community of Black students at NC State. They learned from influential faculty like Dr. Gail Hankins and Dr. Wandra Hill, and spent time in places including the then-Student Center and College Inn.
“It was my village,” Adama said. “As historically excluded students at a predominantly white institution, we had a strong network and we looked out for one another. We hung out on the Brickyard, we socialized off campus and with students from Duke, UNC and the historically Black colleges and universities in the area. We retain many of those connections today.
“Those experiences and those relationships gave me a sense of home here at NC State.”
Dewayne, who in 1994 became a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings, shared that feeling. He spent several seasons as a starting cornerback there and with the Pittsburgh Steelers, with shorter stints playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I always came back to campus in the offseason to work out and I always knew this would be a place I’d eventually call home,” he said.
During those months between professional football seasons, Dewayne also enrolled in classes, one at a time. He eventually completed his undergraduate degree in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences with a major in interdisciplinary studies. Hankins and Gary Palin were among the faculty and staff who encouraged him.
“One of the biggest impacts NC State has made on me came from the commitment and determination of those who motivated and supported me to finish my degree,” he said. “That meant so much to me, because it didn’t have anything to do with football or how fast I could run or how high I could jump. It fulfilled the promise I made to my mom that I would graduate.
“It took me six years to finish it up, but it’s the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done, outside of my marriage and kids, no doubt.”
A similar experience deepened Adama’s ties to NC State. When she and Dewayne married in 1997, she had one degree requirement remaining. The social work faculty here helped connect her with St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where Dewayne was playing for the Vikings, and ensured she could earn that final internship credit.
“We are dedicated to the School of Social Work because of how much they’ve supported us,” Adama said. “It’s only right to give back.”
A Shared Vision of Shaping the Future
Adama earned her master’s degree in social work at the University of Pittsburgh while Dewayne was with the Steelers. She holds licensure in several areas and has put her skills to work in mental health and substance use disorder settings as well as being an active volunteer leader in her children’s schools and the community.
Dewayne, always interested in architecture and construction growing up, is a partner at NSV Development and past CEO and managing partner for the D. Washington Group. He focuses on the construction and financial operations of NSV, which prides itself in transforming areas of communities like Fayetteville, Wilson and his Durham hometown.
One day during his NFL years, Dewayne, whose Wolfpack career bridged the Dick Sheridan and Mike O’Cain eras, ran into former strength and conditioning coach David Horning on campus. Horning had traded his shorts and T-shirt for a coat, tie and role as an associate athletics director. Conversations followed.
“He would talk about future possibilities and ways that I could get reinvolved. He talked to me about how you should do your part to give back and that really resonated with me,” Dewayne said. “I always knew that someone out here paid for my scholarship, so I should probably do the same since I was blessed to have the ability to do that.”
The Washingtons are members of the Wolfpack Club, Black Alumni Society and William Joseph Peele Lifetime Giving Society. Dewayne has served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors, the Board of Visitors and the NC State University Foundation Board. Adama has served on the Chancellor’s African American Advisory Council, on the CHASS Dean’s Advisory Board and with Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy.
More than a decade ago, the couple established the need-based Dewayne and Adama Washington Scholarship Endowment and the Washington Sankofa Room Fund. They have given to other areas that include the African American Cultural Center, Student Emergency Fund and Preserve the Pack.
They long planned to do something bigger – a family legacy to include their children: son DJ, who graduated last year from the University of Miami and works for JP Morgan in Miami; daughter Demi, a rising junior and basketball player at Vanderbilt University; and daughter Delaney, a rising high school senior at Ravenscroft School.
“We understand that you become what you see,” Dewayne said. “We always wanted them to see us doing positive things – giving back in whatever way we could and doing things to help others. I hope at some point they’ll each be able to support something that has mattered to them.”
The events of 2020 converted the “someday” of creating that family legacy into “today.”
As the Washingtons spent more time together at home in Wake Forest during the coronavirus pandemic and witnessed the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police, they reflected, Adama said, on quotes like Mahatma Gandhi’s that you must be the change you wish to see in the world. They talked about Dewayne’s motto during his 2015-2017 tenure as the head football coach at Heritage High School: Why not us and why not now?
“We had time to wrap our arms around our community even more and think about what we could do to help,” he said.
This Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign gift was influenced by all they’ve learned about the university in recent years, from the many things going well to the areas that could benefit from enhanced funding.
“We know students who choose to become social workers can be tremendous change agents,” Adama said. “What better way to make a difference than to support individuals who will impact social and economic justice, equity and inclusion? The student population at NC State is still only about 6% African American. These students need support and mentors to make sure they have a sense of belonging and identity, and we’d love to see that number grow.”
The gift also has given Dewayne a chance to reflect on what he misses most about football: the camaraderie of the locker room, where a diverse group of players, coaches and staff come together and learn from one another.
He was proud to show the NC State locker room that soon will bear his name to his children earlier this summer.
“It’s the gathering place, every day for practice and then before you go out to battle and work toward a common goal,” Dewayne said. “Being able to have my name there really appealed to me.”
The Washingtons encourage others to engage with their own village at the university. Find a place that needs your time, talent, treasure or testimony, they said.
“Jump in without hesitation,” Adama said. “There is room for everyone at NC State.”
This post was originally published in Giving News.