The largest real estate professional group in the country is recognizing former tennis star MaliVai Washington for his commitment to his community in Jacksonville.
Family lore has it that Washington’s grandma, Gertrude Mathis, was a landlord in Meridian, Mississippi, in the heat of the Jim Crow Era. He says his love of real estate came from her — and after making a home in Northeast Florida, he’s using his real estate nous to change lives in one of Florida’s poorest ZIP codes, 32209.
Washington tells Jacksonville Today he became a Realtor almost by accident, when he got injured playing in the Davis Cup in Brazil. “Throughout my teenage years and young adult years, I was always interested in real estate,” he says. “I proceeded to rehab my knee for the next eight months. I said, ‘Well, I’d love to maybe take a real estate class.’”
In October, the National Association of Realtors recognized Washington with its 2022 Good Neighbor Award, along with $10,000 for his youth foundation. The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors matched that gift in January. Last week, a mural celebrating that award was unveiled on the side of the MaliVai Washington Foundation headquarters in Durkeeville. Jacksonville Today caught up with Washington after its unveiling.
Q: You’ve been working with children here over the last two and a half decades. How does this new recognition allow you to help more people in Jacksonville?
A: The Good Neighbor Award allows me to be able to talk about real estate in a little different way than I did before.
I love to expose young people to real estate, the value of real estate as a wealth builder. I think it’s the greatest wealth builder in the world. So many millions of people, and certainly people in more economically challenged neighborhoods, don’t participate in the real estate game and don’t participate in real estate ownership.
I get a lot of recognition around the world of tennis. And this was especially special to me because it wasn’t about tennis. It was about my foundation and the fact I’ve been a Realtor here in Northeast Florida for 27 years.
Being acknowledged for the work that we’re doing just puts a bright light on the work that’s going on here with my youth foundation in the 32209 ZIP code.
Q: The foundation has been here for 26 years. Now, you’re starting to see second-generation kids — and also watching your own kids grow up — how has that shaped your approach?
When we started our foundation and brought our programs here to Jacksonville, it was fun. It was cool. It was cool to be out on the court with a young person and teaching them tennis. We were here for a couple years and realized, ‘Tennis is cool, but look at the other concerns going on in their lives.’ And then we said, ‘We need to address that.’ So we grew from a tennis program to a tennis and education program. And then we added life skills.
What I have realized over time is tennis is just a platform to get kids to focus on their passion, to get them to focus on their conduct, (their) education (and) get them to focus on their future. I realize, it’s my responsibility, as a human being, as a citizen, to impact my community.
It doesn’t have to be with young people. It could be with animals. It could be with the environment. I have a passion for young people because I see their potential. Oftentimes, young people don’t see the potential they have. The potential is there and I see it. I see their lack of confidence sometimes. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my, Gosh. If you only knew. If you can only see what I see.’
Of course, I sound like I’m 53 years old. I wasn’t thinking along those lines when I was in my 20s or early 30s. But, at 53, I’m sitting here thinking, ‘We are impacting the lives and the future of young people.’
My two children are 20 and 17 years old. I fully understand the impact my wife and I are having being with them every single day and trying to mold their future.
With the foundation, we’re trying to do the exact same thing with 250 students. We’re trying to mold their future in a way and help them realize that through our network of donors, sponsors, supporters and volunteers, we will do everything we can to help you realize your potential and be successful. It doesn’t matter what you want to pursue. Someone in my network can connect you. In this neighborhood, oftentimes, those connections are lacking. But, this foundation can be that connection.
The United States Tennis Foundation, Florida Blue, The GATE Foundation, Bank of America, The Players Championship, ATP Tour and Jaguars Foundation are among those that funded Washinton’s foundation move into its 12,000-square foot building next to Emmett Reed Center in 2020.
Q: You’ve told a story of meeting tennis great Arthur Ashe when you were younger. Describe that meeting and the lesson it taught you.
Author’s note: Ashe and Washington are the only Black men to have ever played in a Wimbledon final. Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors in 1975. Washington lost to Richard Krajicek in 1996.
It’s really only been in the last several years that I have made an effort to get people to understand there are opportunities every single day. There’s opportunity in front of you, you just have to be aware enough and bold enough to pursue those opportunities.
I met Arthur Ashe when I was 20 years old at the University of Michigan. He came out to our tennis facility. He was talking to me, our coaches and other players.
Do you think I was mature enough, bold enough, bright enough to say, ‘Mr. Ashe, do you think I could have your phone number? Do you think we could talk once a year? Do you think we could talk every once in a while?’ Of course not! I didn’t even know it was an opportunity. Here was an opportunity 2 feet away from me — a Wimbledon champion, a U.S. Open champion — staring me in the face. Imagine if Arthur Ashe said, ‘Yeah, I don’t mind mentoring you. I don’t mind being an advisor.’
Do you think that connection would put my, or someone’s life, on a little different path? Absolutely.
Those are the types of opportunities that our students have. Because of the connections through my youth foundation, they have to be bold enough to take advantage of them. As they get older, they have to realize the opportunities oftentimes are right in front of them. They have to put their fear aside, their anxiety aside, and just do it. If you’re afraid, just do it afraid. Do it anyways.
Editor’s note: This conversation has been condensed for brevity.