Darryl Washington Proves That Growing Up Urban Can Yield Business Successby GDN Shared Post August 4, 2015
Growing up in one of D.C.’s toughest neighborhoods, Darryl Washington was stunned to reach the White House. He had traveled a long road from notorious Southeast Washington. As a kid, Darryl thought of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as an address for dignitaries, politicians, and socialites – and certainly not the eventual stomping ground of a youngster surrounded by despair. So, when Darryl Washington was honored in America’s most famous residence four years ago, the occasion was more than just an urban youth reaching hallowed ground.
Moreover, when he shook President Obama’s hand in the West Wing, Washington soaked in the experience, perhaps more than any other honoree. Washington believed that he represented much more than himself and his company. He also stood in for Southeast D.C. and urban communities across America.
“I never dreamed of meeting the president of the United States in the White House,” said Washington, president of DKW Communications, Inc., an award-winning information-technology firm that he launched 14 years ago. “Where I came from, the dreams, overall, were much smaller. So to be invited there, honored there by President Obama, well, it meant the world to me. I felt like I took all of Southeast D.C. with me.”
Washington grew up with few role models outside his family’s apartment. His father was an auto mechanic. His mother was a government employee. Their hard work nurtured their four children. But bad influences were everywhere. Washington saw many friends sucked into wayward lives.
Those cautionary tales helped Washington, 51, concentrate on bettering himself and his family. He graduated Ballou High School in 1980 and attended Norfolk State University for a year. He transferred back home to Howard University and graduated in 1985 with a degree in electrical engineering. He initially applied his technological skills in the intelligence community and quickly saw his responsibilities grow.
Washington plowed $45,000 of his retirement savings and credit-card debit into launching DKW Communications, Inc., in 2001. From one employee and a lot of gumption, he has spent 14 years gradually expanding his company into one of America’s premier small-business IT companies. With nine offices from Washington, D.C. to Colorado Springs to San Diego, Darryl and his 250 staffers provide, among others, disaster recovery, cyber security, and data center services for government entities. DKW has more than $200 million in contracts.
Michael L. Mathews* of 100 Black Men of Greater Washington, nominated Darryl to the prominent civic organization. “I’ve seen the great work we do in the community socially, educationally and economically,” Mathews said, “and Darryl brings all that.”
“I’m glad I grew up in Southeast D.C., Darryl said. “It made me tough and resilient. I saw my mother and father work hard, treat people right, and overcome instead of give up. They inspired me to be an innovator and a hard worker.
“The personalities you encounter growing up in an urban community give you a depth that you might not otherwise receive,” Washington added. “You have to avoid the traps of the environment, for sure. If you can do that and make it into the world, you’re a well-rounded person who can function in all environments. So, my upbringing was a blessing. It gave me depth and the inspiration to achieve. Nothing was handed to me. I had to make my way. That only makes you a better person.”
Washington’s tireless work – often until or after midnight – has earned DKW Deloitte’s Fast 500 North America Rising Star award. DKW also was listed among the Top 100 Businesses in Washington, which took him to the White House. Commercial success aside, Washington sees there is a greater mission: community.
“Being a servant of the community is not just important,” he said, “it’s a responsibility. Almost every great person I have met or read about – from Martin Luther King to President Obama -stresses the ideals of being a community servant. And I feel the same way.”
Washington mentors public-school students, sponsors a youth basketball team, and supports the National Book Club Conference. It promotes reading among young people and provides books and school materials to a Johannesburg orphanage, a Cape Town elementary school, and a Ghanaian women’s hospital.
Washington also has offered jobs and supplies to Abundant Life Family Fellowship, the church that he attends in Maryland.. ALFF recently was short of office equipment and furniture. “Upon hearing of this need, Mr. Washington immediately and without hesitancy met with one of our leaders and donated several thousand dollars of items to the church,” recalled pastor Lawrence R. Taylor. “In fact, he invited us to ‘take whatever we needed.'”
Washington said it all came back to his urban upbringing. The lessons learned and strength required to make it served him well in business and in life. When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, he called on his background to battle the disease. Washington cites his urban upbringing as one weapon he used to battle cancer.
“Nothing came easy, but that’s how it should be,” Washington said.. “People stole money from me. Contracts were hard to come by. People I knew doubted me. Cancer knocked me down. But my upbringing would not allow me to quit. So it’s very rewarding to be thriving, understanding where I started.
“The idea has to be that you first recognize that your current situation does not have to be your situation all your life. You have the capacity to change it, to make it better. We have to break the mentality in urban communities that it’s OK to underachieve. It’s not easy. Racism is real and there are roadblocks black people encounter that others don’t. But we have to fight to overcome it. We can’t give in to it.” •