WITH HER HANDS ON HER HIPS AND EYES NARROWED, Kerry Washington is delivering instructions in a firm tone. She is not pleased.
“I don’t have two straight lines here!” says Washington to a number of excited youngsters assembled for a class excursion. “I need two … straight … lines.”
Standing in front of the nearly 100 students from Inglewood, California’s Warren Lane Elementary School, Washington’s booming voice and stern look has transformed her into the quintessential schoolteacher. The usually designer-drenched actress is confidently leading the group wearing a simple dress and sensible pumps. The only thing that gives away her superstar status is her purse: a black crossbody Givenchy bag. Clearly enamored with—and in awe of—their mentor, these kids seem to have little choice but to fall in place.

Washington is no stranger to the children. As part of the Turnaround Arts program, she comes into the school regularly, interacting with the students and introducing them to the arts through field trips and acting classes. On this day, they’re traveling to UCLA to see a live performance of The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, Debbie Allen’s interpretation of the legendary ballet.

“Today is very important,” states Washington, addressing the youngsters. “The performers know that a group of students from Warren Lane will be in the audience, so how you behave matters. Think about what you want them to think of your school? And what do you want them to think of you?”
“We want them to know the kids at our school are respectful,” offers a little girl after raising her hand.

“That the kids at Warren Lane are respectful!” Washington echoes. “Yes! Who else?”

A little boy standing toward the back chimes in. “That the kids at Warren Lane are fantastic.”
“That the kids at Warren Lane are fantastic!” Washington repeats. “Exactly! So will we be on our very best behavior to represent our school?”
“Yes, Ms. Kerry!” the kids ring out in unison. With just a hint of a smile, she leads them into the auditorium for the show.

THERE ARE MANY facets of Kerry Washington, some we know well, and some we don’t know at all. Frankly, the actress can be a reporter’s nightmare—candid to a point, tight-lipped to a fault. At the same time, she drops gems on life and love that are spoken from a place of true grace, wisdom and self-awareness; the kind that she has clearly worked hard to achieve.
One week after the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker performance, the version of Washington who filed 100 students in two straight lines in five minutes is nowhere to be found. Now, she is getting all dolled up in a photographer’s studio, prepping for her EBONY cover shoot. Her hair perfectly coiffed and her face made up to understated perfection, Washington slips behind a cordoned-off area and comes out in a drop-dead gorgeous, floor-length gown. She walks toward the photographer, ready for her close-up.

Read the rest of this article in the April 2015 issue of EBONY Magazine.