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Conversations: MaliVai Washington

Thursday, August 16, 2007


On Monday, August 13th, I had the utmost pleasure of speaking with MaliVai (Mal) Washington. I contacted him through his foundation and he agreed to be the first exclusive interview on Black Tennis Pro's. I am very pleased that he agreed and thank him for his time.

Mal was open, engaging and incredibly focused on whatever we were discussing. As a matter of fact, he contacted me shortly after getting out of a meeting, drove home and attempted to pacify his two-year old daughter all while responding to my questions. Impressive huh? Not the meeting or the driving, the two-year old!

We discussed a number of issues, but Mal was most poignant when his passion for his "MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation" was on display. The tone of his voice, the inflections and immediate recall all displayed a true commitment towards the work.

I began our conversation with regard to his "disappearance".

Shelia: Where have you been? I noticed a while ago that you were no longer commentating matches. What have you been up to?
Mal: Well, I didn't disappear. I just wasn't doing any public things. Primarily I wanted to do less travel and spend more time with my family. Also over the last 10-fifteen years I had developed an interest in real estate.

Shelia: So, you're married?
Mal: Yes, and I have two children, my son Noah, he's 4 1/2 years old, and my daughter Zeta, she's two years old.

Shelia: Wonderful, what great ages to be so involved in your kids lives. It'll will definitely pay off in the long run.
Mal: Yeah, they are at a great age and I want to spend as much time with them as possible.

Shelia: Real Estate?
Mal: Yes, I have a great interest in real estate investment. I have a company here in Florida, Washington Properties, we buy and sell properties.

Shelia: What do you do for fun? Do you get much time for recreation? A little tennis perhaps?
Mal: Well the kids like to go to the beach. We take them and let them get dirty in the sand. I haven't had much time to get any tennis in.

Shelia: What caused you to return to tour play?
Mal: This is not the regular tour, by no means.

Shelia: Well, the Outback Senior Tour.
Mal: Very simply, I received a call from Jim Courier asking me to replace someone that was pulling out. I said yes, that I'd give it a try since I would not be playing a lot, you know on a regular basis and not in that many events. We'll see how the knee holds out.

Shelia: O.K., let's get some "fun facts" about you.
Mal: O.K.

Shelia: What's your favorite food? ,
Mal: Pancakes, pizza, filet mignon, fish.

Shelia: *shaking my head* Pancakes?
Mal: Yes, I always had some before matches when I was playing regularly.

Shelia: Don't you think that's a heavy food to eat right before playing?
Mal: I don't see them as a heavy food

Shelia: *guys* O.K. Favorite book?
Mal: Hmmmm, good question, let's come back to that one.

Shelia: Movie?
Mal: Forrest Gump

Shelia: Music?
Mal: Oh, that's hard to say. I like all kinds of music from hip hop to jazz and from hard rock to Frank Sinatra.

Shelia: Vacation spot?
Mal: Hawaii ---- Maui.

Shelia: Grand slam tournament?
Mal: I guess I'd have to say Wimbledon since that is where I had my best results. But I really love the U.S. Open.

Shelia: ATP Tour player?
Mal: When I was first retired, I really enjoyed watching Gustavo Kuerten. I like Roger Federer and James Blake.

Shelia: WTA Tour player?
Mal: Kim Clijsters. But I'd better say Mashona Washington since my sister is still playing *laughing*

Shelia: Do you get a chance to hit with your sister much?
Mal: We used to get together a lot, but not so much anymore.

Shelia: O.K., moving on.....Oh! Back to your favorite book?
Mal: Nelson Mandela's "Long Walk To Freedom". It is fascinating what this man endured and was able to overcome in his lifetime and still become become President of South Africa.

Shelia: Discuss the "MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation".
Mal: In the beginning it's basic purpose was a tennis program designed to have kids who do not have the opportunity to get on the courts and teach them about the sport in hopes of helping them learn sportsmanship, hard work and respecting your opponent. Now we are a 40% tennis and 60% life skills program. We are in our 11th year here in Jacksonville, Florida and the program is expanding. We're completing work on a $3,000,000 capital program building and making other improvements in the community. The program now serves 125 kids 5 days a week. When we finish the building we will accommodate 300 kids daily. Life skills, nutrition, leadership camp are all part of the program.

We serve a very economically challenged area with high rates in all of the crime statistics. The program serves predominately African-American children. We start out 1st and 2nd graders or the primary grades of 1 through 6. We have say, 80 1st through 6th graders and 25-45 junior and senior high school age kids.

Shelia: Do you get much parent participation?
Mal: Parent participation is vital to the program. We don't have as many as we'd like for any number of reasons, but some do participate.

Shelia: Do you think that you're having an impact in the community?
Mal: I guarantee you that we are having an impact. In August we have helped put some of the first kids here into college at the University of Florida and Florida A&M University. We expose the children to other cities and other communities so that they are not limited in their scope to what they see in their community everyday, but to other possibilities also.

Shelia: Very impressive.

In the background you can hear his car engine die down and shortly thereafter his daughter Zeta is headed his way yelling "daddy, daddy".

Shelia: O.K., I see that you're needed, so I'll ask one final question: Tell us somthing about you that we don't know.
Mal: That you don't know.......hmmmm........Well, as I'm looking out the window I see my boat on the side of the house. I used to really love boats. And since we live near the water I thought that it would be great to have one, so I bought one. And from the very first day that I owned that boat it has been a problem, it never really functioned that well. I now hate boats. I literally wish a high tide would come in and take that boat out with it. I wouldn't even call my insurance company. I hate boats and now I'm getting mad thinking about it. I hate boats.

Shelia: *laughing* That's hilarious.

Zeta is now very upset and wants daddy's full and undivided attention.

Mal: (To Zeta) What's wrong? *she starts to whine* I know what it is.

Shelia: So do I. She wants you off of that phone and all to herself. So thank you very much for your time and please, share any upcoming events with Black Tennis Pro's and visit often.

Posted by Shelia

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