While appearing on Live! With Kelly and Ryan, This Is Us star Susan Kelechi Watson shared a story about the time she and and a few of her Howard classmates had the opportunity to study at Oxford for a summer. She told the hosts that the trip, per person, was around $5,000, but none of the students could really afford it — until one of her classmates contacted alumni Phylicia Rashad.
“I remember a friend of mine reached out to Phylicia Rashad, who is also an alumni of Howard, and got on the phone with Phylicia and Phylicia was like, ‘Oh no you’re going!’ And we were like, ‘Ok…’ She was like, ‘I will call you back.’”
“The next thing you know she calls back and says, ‘Denzel and I are paying for you guys to go,'” Watson added. “I’m happy to say he paid for my scholarship to go and we went and had this amazing summer that changed all of our lives. I saw Mr. Washington at some occasion years later and I said, ‘Excuse me Mr. Washington, you paid for my scholarship to go,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, you’re welcome.'”
Someone who happens to have a similar story of benefiting from the support of both Rashad and Washington is Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman. The 41-year-old actor studied at Howard. He worked at an African-themed bookstore and during his time at the school, was mentored by Rashad.
“She would do a play in D.C. and you’d go see it, and she’d drive you home and talk to you,” he recounted in his cover story interview with Rolling Stone. “‘How you eating? You look too skinny. You need a pork chop.’ We were just trying to aspire to her excellence.”
As for Rashad, she knew Boseman was going to make it because he carried himself much differently than other aspiring actors.
“Chad was this lanky young man with big eyes and an endearing smile and a very gentle way,” she said. “What I saw in him was the sky was the limit. He never asked me to introduce him to anyone – that’s not his way. He was going to make it on his own merits.”
But that didn’t mean when the chance to study at Oxford came around for him, he couldn’t use some help.
“She pushed for us,” Boseman said of Rashad’s enthusiasm over the opportunity. “She essentially got some celebrity friends to pay for us to go.”
Initially, Boseman wouldn’t say which celebrity paid for him, but made sure to say, “No, it’s not Bill Cosby.”
By the end of the conversation, Boseman decided to reveal that he received a benefactor letter stating that Washington funded his trip.
“I’m sure he has no idea,” Boseman said. “It was random.” And while he couldn’t wait to write his thank-you letter to the legendary actor back then, he surprisingly still hasn’t met Washington to say thank you in person. “I’ve been waiting to meet him, so I can tell him.”
He told the magazine that he tried to remain silent about Washington being his benefactor for a good reason.
“You never want to make someone feel like they owe you something else,” he said. “They’ve already given you whatever it is they were supposed to give you. But I realized this morning that I’ve gotten to a point where nobody would think that. I don’t need any more help.”