Jacque Tara Washington’s journey came by way of growing up in Pennsylvania, attending Penn State University before moving out to California to pursue her dream of performing before finally arriving in Syracuse to be closer to family. When she arrived in Syracuse she would start a family of her own and she and her husband worked full-time to support them. It was while she was working, that she realized the need to pursue a degree in communications and journalism so she could advance herself professionally, which led her to enroll in Onondaga Community College’s (OCC) Radio and Television (RTV) program, with a minor in journalism.
From the start, Washington loved OCC, which was not only convenient, but provided a sense of support she did not get from her previous attempt at a larger four-year institution. “I always encourage people to go to a two-year college first as part of the college experience, because I know how advantageous it can be to have the focused hands-on approach to learning that I received from the faculty in the RTV department and in all of my classes at OCC,” Washington said. During the time that Washington was a full-time student at OCC, she performed theatrically with the Salt City Center Performing Arts Company, sang in some local jazz clubs, worked full-time at Elmcrest Children’s Center and handled part-time newscast duties for local radio station WNDR/WNTQ, all while being a wife and mother.
After graduation from OCC in 1982, Washington continued to work for WNDR/WNTQ before deciding to further her education by enrolling in the Visual and Performing Arts program at Syracuse University (SU). “I went to SU because of the reputation of the university and most importantly because I wanted to get a degree in musical theatre. I knew how the OCC degree had benefited me and I knew that a BFA (Bachelor’s in Fine Arts) degree would move me that much closer to my goals,” she said. During her time at SU she found it challenging to find roles for African American women, so she tapped into her resourcefulness and developed her own one-woman shows for local community theater organizations. For these shows, Washington would not only perform, but would also conduct all of the marketing and promotional work behind them, which allowed her to have her hands in every part of the productions.
Two shows of note that garnered critical acclaim were both centered around her depiction of the late jazz singer Billie Holiday. Billie’s Dairy and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, were collaborations Washington did with local community groups under Actor’s Equity Association contracts. The Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company was instrumental in producing Billie’s Diary. Washington also performed in a few Syracuse Stage productions. In addition to achieving local and regional award recognition and notoriety for her stage work, Washington was also trying to get into the movie industry and saw an opportunity with the filming of Malcolm X (1992) in New York City. “It sounds a lot more glamorous than what it is,” she said, “I was up at one or two in the morning to drive down to NYC and would sit for hours waiting until we were needed on set.” She was able to land a non-speaking role in the movie, which completed a task on her bucket list, but more importantly it cemented where her true passion resided. “Being a part of Malcolm X was great, but as a result of the process I knew my heart was with live theater productions,” she said.
A few years later, Washington would expand her talents further by moving from the stage to the recording studio to compile the first two installments of her CD Passions Trilogy: World of Passion (1996) and Jazz Passions (2000). These projects would unexpectedly morph into something beyond her wildest dreams when she sent in a video to Black Entertainment Television’s (BET) program called Jazz Discovery in 1999. Her submission would eventually receive screen time and was noticed by an agent who called her shortly after the airing and asked if she would like to perform in Japan. Washington was very excited about performing abroad again after performing in London, England to rave reviews. “Japan was such a wonderful experience, not only because I was performing, but because the people were so sincere and loving and the overall culture made it a life-changing experience,” Washington said. She performed in Japan twice, once in Matsumoto and again in Tokyo, each for about six months before accepting an opportunity to perform in China, which she did for about another month before heading back to Syracuse.
While performing abroad, Washington realized that she wanted to continue to impact people, but in a deeper more lasting way, beyond the stage. People having respect for themselves and for one another has always been important to her and she frequently reminded people in distress that they mattered and should be valued. Washington decided to become a mental health therapist and soon found herself back in school getting her Master’s in Social Work at Syracuse University, which she completed in 2005. “I believe I was a social worker at heart long before getting my degree,” she said, “so once I achieved this goal, and continued to pray about it, I knew I was on the right track.”
Currently, Washington works for Tompkins County Mental Health and has also been operating her own private practice for the past three years, Renewing Your Mind Counseling and Psychological Services, where she provides a wide spectrum of therapeutic services to individuals, families, and groups from teens to the elderly. She still does some performing and wants to eventually complete her CD trilogy, with the third installment to be more inspirational in nature. She also wants to do some therapy programming and reach more people through the Internet with a developing consulting effort. Looking back, Washington feels blessed with what she has achieved and for the opportunities that are surfacing on the horizon. She remains steadfast to where it all began. “While God is my foundation overall, OCC was my foundation for education and learning,” she said, “this was my introduction into continuing education, and I gained the security to move forward in so many successful and productive avenues.”