Ahmad Washington, BSW, MSW, MDiv

By Susan Bean Aycock

Lead advisor to the president, Methodist Children’s Home Part-time staff, First Methodist Church of Waco Founder, motivational speaker, rapper and trainer, MovementUP LLC

“Blocking negative opinions / move with ambition /
no matter the condition /
work hard toward the vision”
From the rap song “Passion First”, by rap artist A.H.M.A.D.D.

Ahmad Washington advises, preaches and ministers to youth and raps to his own music. Sometimes he does it all at the same time. Weekdays, he serves as lead advisor to the president of Methodist Children’s Home. He’s also a part-time staff member at First Methodist Church of Waco. And in between, he runs his own motivational organization, MovementUP LLC, emphasizing positivity and connection between students and teachers.

As rapper A.H.M.A.D.D. (clearly a nod to his own name, but also an acronym for Accepting Humility/Mastering All Divine Direction), he uses rap music to emphasize his points, though the music is just part of the greater message. Which is that despite their upbringing or pull to negative influences, young people can choose to walk a different, more positive road. And that their teachers can make intentional decisions to be present and learn how to communicate more effectively with them.

He not only talks the talk but walks the walk, born out of the desire to rise above his own troubled upbringing.

“I always loved music, from rap to classical to rock and gospel, but rap became my way of expressing myself as a kid when things got rough in my family,” he said. “I’d write songs and poems about the stuff that I was experiencing, my way of venting my feelings instead of getting into destructive vices.” This is how Ahmad Washington shows up.

WACOAN: Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? 

Ahmad Washington: I was born and raised in Houston, in a single-parent home where my mother provided for me and my older sister. My father was at our home until I was about 8 or 9 years old. His and my mother’s relationship started off well, but some things happened that took their marriage in an unhealthy trajectory. He was unfaithful to my mother and physically abusive to her. Because of her fear of him harming us, she took the initiative to get him out of the house when I was 9 and I didn’t see him again until I was a freshman at Baylor, about a year before he passed away. 

WACOAN: You talk about how not having your father around made you want a different path for yourself as a husband and dad. How did you decide to take a right turn from what you had known? 

Washington: I wanted to be everything that my father was not. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew what I did not want to be, and I moved in that direction. A key way I was able to make this move was by the power of Jesus Christ enabling me to truly forgive. Forgiving my father before his passing liberated me from the bondage of feeling doomed to repeat his actions. 

WACOAN: Did you have mentors in your life who stepped into that fathering role?

Washington: Two Waco pastors guided me through various stages of my journey, Pastor B. Wesley Austin Jr. and Pastor Gaylon Foreman. I knew that my father was abusive and unfaithful and so was his father. I didn’t know my father was also a musician, a guitarist and singer. My Uncle Chuck — my mom’s brother, Hennon Cooper — was a pastor in Dallas, and one day when I was in middle school, he explained to me the concept of generational curses. We were sitting on the sofa in my living room, and we both got down on our knees, where he led me in a prayer to cast off every generational curse. As I look back, that prayer began a shift in me that I didn’t realize at that age.

WACOAN: You came to Waco as a football player for Baylor University, where you earned all of your degrees, right?

Washington: Yes, I played cornerback on the Baylor football team from 1994 to 1998. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Baylor, and my Master of Divinity from Truett Theological Seminary.

WACOAN: You have a number of career trajectories, but they all involve ministry and youth: minister, advisor for a youth services organization, educational motivational speaker and rapper and songwriter. Let’s take them one at a time. Your primary job is at Methodist Children’s Home; tell me about that.

Washington: I serve as lead advisor to the president at Methodist Children’s Home [MCH], a position I was promoted to in 2019 shortly before Covid fully hit Waco. In this position, I’m a member of the executive leadership team and assist President Trey Oakley with special projects on- and off-campus. I help to cultivate relationships with like-minded organizations, groups and leaders in our community that strengthens all parties involved. For many years, MCH has been a hidden gem of services in Waco and we’re being more intentional about visibility in the city. Being intentional about these kinds of decisions requires that we pray through them and always invite the spirit of God to direct us as we seek to fulfill our mission and vision.

MCH was opened as a true orphanage in 1890, and 134 years later it still provides Christian-based residential care services for children and youth as well as other services. Our mission is to equip children, youth and families to flourish by offering hope through Christ-centered relationships, services and support. Over the years it’s grown to include 14 outreach offices in Texas and New Mexico, where we seek to strengthen families by providing services, support and training. We operate a Boys Ranch just outside of Waco, which we’ve restructured to be a facility with services that allow us to serve youth needing a higher level of care than our main campus in Waco, something many families desperately need.

WACOAN: How did you initially get involved with Methodist Children’s Home?

Washington: I did an internship while I was still pursuing my bachelor’s degree in social work at Baylor. That turned into a part-time job while I was still in college. While I was earning my MSW [Master of Social Work], my supervisor at the time wanted to know if I would consider becoming a case worker in the future. I prayed and fasted about it and felt led to do that. Once I got my MSW, I became a case worker, then after many years moved into admissions services to interview families before being called into pastoral ministry.

WACOAN: You’re also a part-time staff minister at First Methodist Church of Waco. Tell me about that. 

Washington: My official title is Discipleship Coach for First Methodist Church of Waco. What that means is that I come alongside church members to help them discover God’s agenda for their lives, through teaching classes, providing pastoral counsel, discipleship, listening and leading. I did serve as the worship director for a hip-hop service we were doing at one time, but due to Covid’s impact, our church leadership felt led to merge that service with the contemporary service at our main campus. 

WACOAN: That leads into the musical part of your life and career. How did that come about? What do you think about mainstream rap?

Washington: I’ve been rapping since I was in middle school. I’m still producing, writing, recording and releasing music through the MovementUP music arm of my organization. I still enjoy and am passionate about using my talent to positively impact and influence listeners. There’s a lack of positive messaging options in much of mainstream rap and hip hop. The Greek philosopher Plato said, ‘Give me the music of a generation and I will change the mind of that generation … Music is a moral law, it gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind and flight to the imagination.’ Mainstream rap — which has been given center stage on top playlists and has received the most marketing dollars — does not do what Plato was talking about when describing the powerful potential of music to influence culture. Music is a key influencer of youth culture; it’s not the only key but it is a powerful key.

WACOAN: So now let’s talk about MovementUP, your educational development organization that melds all your passions: youth service, education, music and ministry.

Washington: I felt led to go into full-time ministry in Christian rap and youth evangelism in 2010. When you deal with these types of services to human beings, there has to be a calling — the calling makes you stay in it even when things are difficult. My first month in the ministry was deathly frightening. I didn’t feel led to advertise that I was embarking on this journey to be a Christian speaker and rap artist. I had done music on my off-days and weekends at various churches and organizations in central Texas for years, but I was leaving a job with full benefits and our first child was born that year. My first call was to go to a church in Phoenix, a place I’d never been. Somebody had heard me speak at a Baylor chapel service and recommended me to them; that’s how I started. From that time on, God opened doors and blessed me with many fruitful opportunities.

Traditional programs can only serve so many kids, and praying on how to reach more was what led me to start MovementUP, which I officially founded in 2012. I wanted to try to serve students who might never darken the doors of MCH by meeting them in schools, churches and youth prisons, and sharing practical, Biblically-inspired truth to positively impact, influence and equip them. Over the past 11 years, I’ve had the opportunity to impact more than 50,000 children, youth and young adults. 

At that first church I presented to in Phoenix, there was a boy who had gotten involved with gangs, and my music ministered to him in a way that conversational words didn’t. That was an answer to my heart’s cry and a confirmation from God that I needed to keep moving forward.

WACOAN: How do you use your rap music as part of MovementUP?

Washington: The music component is a part of the greater whole. Sometimes I use music up front to get students’ attention. Sometimes it’s at the end to drive key points home and help them stick, and sometimes it’s in the middle of a presentation if there’s a transition that makes sense. I’ll also play MovementUP music as a sound bed when students are entering the assembly to set the atmosphere for learning and positive energy. Sometimes I have my music playing at the end if the host school is cool with the students and teachers dancing their way back to their classrooms. 

WACOAN: How has MovementUP grown and changed in the last decade-plus?

Washington: Initially, it just provided student enrichment services using motivational speaking, music and other media in school assemblies, small groups, class talks and Q&A sessions. I guess you could say that my unique superpowers are communication and connection, and educators began to ask me how they could emulate that. In 2019, MovementUP grew to include professional development training for teachers, and it was just getting off the ground when Covid hit in 2020. I’d been serving students for 19 years, from internship to my current role, and I drew from my educational background to begin refining the model I call Elevating Educators. Its heart is to equip teachers with practical skills to be more impactful and influential in the lives of their students.

Impact occurs when you as a teacher are aware and confident about what you bring to the table. It happens when you know your superpowers — or natural giftings — as an educator and are operating in them in a way that connects with students. Influence happens when you acknowledge what students bring to the table and use your giftings to affirm that and make connection to help them to learn. You can’t influence them if you don’t know what they value, what moves them and who they are.

WACOAN: How do you make authentic connection with people — specifically youth — in this technology-driven world?

Washington: Honestly, in order to reach anyone, but particularly kids, you have to have compassion for where they are and be willing to relate to where they are in the moment. If they don’t believe you have compassion for them, they’re not going to care what you believe.

In this culture, there’s no limit to what young people are exposed to, and overexposure produces a lack of healthy boundaries. Technology isn’t going anywhere, and sometimes people spend more time complaining about its evils than trying to use it in a positive way. If you’re intentional with technology and mindful of how you use it, it can be used to promote positive core values.

Ours is such a society of instant gratification, and within that context it’s hard to develop patience. When you read a book, a character may get into a situation on page 344 and by page 345 be out of it, but that’s not how life really works. We have to be mindful of the information we take in through the media we consume and how it affects our minds. We’re too used to click funnels [online business models to promote services or products] to show you how fast you can see results. But what’s needed to get results is authentic conversation that’s challenging and real.

Loneliness is a problem that social media may seem to help but actually doesn’t. Social media gives the illusion of connection and can make you think you know somebody when you don’t, or make you feel they care about you when they actually don’t.

WACOAN: What distinguishes MovementUP from other educational or motivational services?

Washington: Lots of organizations serve kids and do a great job. But we also serve the people who serve kids to equip, inspire and train them to make impactful connections with their students. The feedback I’ve gotten is that it’s practical training that educators can apply to both their professional and personal lives, and that it helps them to be better teachers. I do a personal assessment with each teacher, where they fill out a survey that lets me know their personality type, likes and dislikes. We also work on self-awareness and self-care to keep them energized for the taxing work they do. An introverted teacher may need time alone with a book to reenergize. Extroverted educators may need to go hiking with their friends. The self-awareness piece is so crucial in making an impact on the students. I had my whole family do a self-awareness survey, and now I have a better understanding of my own kids, who are 13 and 17.

WACOAN: Why are affirmation and intentionalism so important?

Washington: We’re so busy on our hamster wheel of life that we just keep going and going; many keep going to the grave and don’t experience life to the fullest. Being intentional is somewhat of a lost value; it’s hard to pay attention and be fully present in the moment. To affirm somebody requires a level of emotional energy, being present and paying attention. One student I encountered loved to write reviews on superhero movies on his blog site. I read some of his reviews and it turned out he was a great writer, which I told him. He was so surprised I’d taken the time to read them. That affirmation took just a few seconds but was so important to him. Investment in people starts interaction by interaction: at your job, the grocery store, in line at Starbucks. It’s God’s way of allowing you an opportunity to make the world a better place.

WACOAN: You also mention the importance of self-awareness in being able to create impact. How do you work on that?

Washington: MovementUP actually does individual assessments with people so they can identify their strengths and limitations. But aside from that, your first step may be to do an online test; most are free. Enneagram is one, though I’m not a huge fan; another is the DISC assessment. But there are also many others.

Who you are is different than how you are. Who you are is the sum of your experiences and values. How you are is how you show up. Are you a problem solver? Do you like to follow established procedures? How do you prefer to express your thoughts and feelings? You have to ask yourself questions about how you can personally improve. If you never ask, you’ll never know if you’re preventing yourself from achieving your goals. You have to be willing to have tough conversations with yourself. And you have to become willing to confront your own issues and traumas to make sure you’re not projecting them on those you’re trying to help.

WACOAN: How do your friends describe you? What areas of yourself are you still working on and what are your challenges?

Washington: Friends describe me as a man of faith and family, a good listener, wise, multi-talented and a good communicator. I’m still working on remaining a student of the things that I love to do. Like many people, one of my challenges is being patient — with God’s process for my life, work, ministry and music. Another is identifying ways to let schools know about the services that MovementUP offers to educators. That would entail developing a system for identifying and engaging opportunities to serve a school district like Waco ISD.

WACOAN: How do you unwind? What would you do with two more hours in a day?

Washington: It’s relaxing to create music just for the sake of creating, and also for the sake of expressing myself. I also enjoy cooking for my family, laughing with them, and watching the series they’re viewing at the time. With two more hours in a day, I’d spend time kicking it and talking with my wife, as she’s an amazing source of accountability and confidence for me: a true blessing. 

WACOAN: At the end of the day, what do you want to be remembered for?

Washington: I’d like to be remembered as a man of positive impact and influence, a man who glorified God and did good for people. 

WACOAN: What gives you hope?

Washington: My first answer is my relationship with Jesus Christ. But as far as hope in humanity, it’s the small wins that I see every day that I choose to be present and express gratitude to the Lord for them.