Ukee Washington takes time to inspire Dover youth

Dover native Ukee Washington chats with children at the Dover Educational and Community Center in Capitol Green . (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Whenever Ukee Washington gets a chance to visit his old stomping grounds in Dover, he always tries his best to take it, no matter how busy his schedule might be — especially when there’s an opportunity to meet and inspire children.

That’s because he still fondly remembers his days as a youth in the city back when he split his time between Dover and Philadelphia.

It was during that period of his life that he built lifetime friends and everlasting memories.

On Wednesday, Mr. Washington visited the Dover Educational and Community Center Inc., and its 30 or so children in Capitol Green, as he casually walked up to the facility off River Road, just like it was in his own backyard.

Dover City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. was preparing a cookout on the grill as Mr. Washington, the man who many of the children may have seen on TV co-anchoring CBS 3’s Eyewitness News out of Philadelphia, came walking up.

Suddenly, Mr. Washington became a real person to the excited kids … and not just a face on TV.

“We all have to start somewhere and I started right here — in West Philly and Dover, Delaware, because I commuted,” Mr. Washington said. “I came back-and-forth between seventh and 12th grade and those were the best years of my life. So yeah, it feels great to come back.”

Mr. Washington, who was inducted into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame in 2013, had something of a unique life in high school.

He was from Philadelphia but with his father, Ulysses, serving as the chairman of Delaware State University’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mr. Washington grew accustomed to spending the week in Dover and his weekends in Pennsylvania.

Ukee Washington was a star basketball and track and field athlete at Dover High School in the 1970s. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Mr. Washington forged many memories as a student-athlete in the Capital School District in the mid-1970s, where he excelled in basketball and track and field.

With 1,305 career points, the 6-foot-4 forward/center broke Dover High School’s career scoring record and was seventh on the state’s all-time scoring list at the time.

He twice won the maximum three state championships in track and field while breaking records in the hurdles and mile relay. His 14.28-second time in the high hurdles set a mark that stood for seven years while his 300-meter hurdle time of 37.85 seconds was in the record books for 17 years.

Nowadays, Mr. Washington is best known for being a news anchorman on Philadelphia television. Since 1986, he’s been an on-air reporter and anchor on KYW-TV.

In 2008, he was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia’s Hall of Fame.

Mr. Washington said he wants every child to realize they have the same opportunity to achieve success — they just have to focus and work towards their goal.

That’s why he relishes the chance to meet the area’s youth whenever he can.

“You know what, I come back as often as I can,” said Mr. Washington. “I come back at least once a week because my dad is still down here.

“To come back and see where it all started, to see the young people coming up and talk to them about their dreams

and wishes, it’s a beautiful thing.”

The humble, down-to-earth quality that Mr. Washington still displays is one of his best qualities, says Don Blakey, a former state representative.

“Ukee grew up in this area and participated in a lot of things that these kids are beginning to participate in,” Mr. Blakey said. “To make that connection is really important because it gives (the children) something to look forward to.

“He remembers where he is from. There’s no doubt about it.”

Mr. Washington gathered the children around him at the Dover Educational and Community Center last week and listened to their hopes and dreams. He ate lunch with them and listened intently to them.

He even played a couple of rounds of “Ring Around the Rosie” before falling to the ground, drawing happy laughs from the kids in Capitol Green.

“This is my first time meeting him and I think it’s awesome,” said Brandon George, an 8-year-old.

Ukee Washington, in the dark sweater, grew up with the Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige, right, in Dover. (Submitted photo)

The Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige, president of the Dover Educational and Community Center, has known Mr. Washington since they were children themselves.

She is happy that Mr. Washington is still “one of the kids from the neighborhood who remembers where he came from.”

“A lot of these children come from economically disadvantaged homes and that’s the uniqueness of our day care center,” Rev. Paige said. “We’re located in the center of the population we serve (Capitol Green).

“Meeting Ukee may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of these children. I think they’re very excited to get to meet him.”

That’s the funny thing, according to Mr. Washington, because he was just as excited to meet them.

“That’s why I was sitting down and looking into their eyes and talking about their dreams and what they want to be when they grow older,” he said. “One person wanted to be a meteorologist, another person wanted to be a doctor.

“To have those dreams now and to believe in yourself now and to have some adults around you that will help further those dreams, that’s a beautiful thing. I’m counting on these kids.”

As for Dover, Mr. Washington said it will always remain a large part of who he is and what he has become.

“I talk about Dover on the air whenever I can,” he said. “I come down here for events whenever I can. Dover will always be a large part of my life because I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now if it wasn’t for Dover.”

While the old Dover High School off Walker Road that he attended has been leveled and a new one has been built, nobody can take away his memories.

“When it comes to the new school I know that it’s beautiful, but it’s all about what everybody’s doing inside, from the teachers to the administrators and getting that education … and I know Dover will continue that,” said Mr. Washington, who called the new Dover High the “Taj Mahal of high schools.”

As for his future plans, he said he’s happy doing what he’s doing, delivering the news on TV in Philadelphia.

“We’re in a much different world now, but I try to bring the positive news as well,” he said. “I try to balance it out. I’m enjoying what I do so much and look forward to continuing it.”

Ukee Washington was inducted into the Broadcasters Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame in 2008. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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