The two-time Academy Award winner, Golden Globe and Tony Award winning actor has been described as everything from one of the most brilliant actors of his generation and a handsome heartthrob, to humanitarian and devoted father and husband.
Maria arrived in Washington, D.C., the week of Sept. 12, as the Boy’s & Girl’s Clubs Regional Youth of the Year where she met with President Barack Obama and Denzel Washington in the Oval office concerning ways to increase graduation rates. The Hollywood actor has been the national spokesperson for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America for the past 18 years.
During her visit Maria and the other four finalists were treated to a banquet dinner with Denzel and entertainer Ashanti, the National Youth of the Year ambassador for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Of all the memories she will carry from her historic run from city to regional and National Youth of the Year runner-up in 2010, Maria said her dinner with Denzel will be one of her most cherished memories.
It was a Tuesday when Maria had what would be the night of a lifetime, calling it “a magical night.”
“We had dinner at the Hyatt Hotel in a big room,” said Maria. “I don’t know what you call those rooms but it was big. They treated us like royalty the whole time. It felt so weird to be the center of attention.”
According to Maria, Denzel and Ashanti kept saying how honored they were to be sitting at the table with her and her peers.
“I was sitting right across from Denzel and it was really funny because I could not stop staring at him,” she confessed. “I could not believe I was meeting two celebrities at the same time and they had already read about us and knew us by name, which was amazing.”
The teen said they were served “fancy food” which included specially cooked stake and potatoes with a salad and cheesecake for dessert, all of which she said “was delicious.” But Denzel only had coffee, according to her.
“He said he ate before the dinner. He ate some ‘real food.’ That’s what he said. It was funny! I asked him what was his favorite movie and he said, ‘The next movie I make,’ which I thought was awesome,” said Maria, whose favorite Denzel Washington movie is ‘Remember the Titans.’
“Then I asked him what his favorite color was. He said ‘Black.’ Then he talked to us about the reason he was so successful was because God was his number one. He also talked to us about his kids and the importance of always being unselfish and giving back.”
Maria said the popular actor was always a gentleman. He was also very relaxed and funny which made her and the other finalists feel even more comfortable.
“He is an amazing person. The one thing that impressed me was how the whole time camera and news people would try to talk to him he would tell them it wasn’t about him but about us (the five regional youth of the year). He said they needed to talk to us, not him,” said Maria who was impressed with Denzel’s down-to-earth attitude.
“He would act just like a normal person. He never once talked about himself or his movies. He always told us how honored and proud he was of us and how privileged he was to sit and hang out with us. And the importance of always giving to others and not being self centered.”
Maria said the actor/director said several profound things that stuck with her long after their dinner engagement.
“He said ‘Don’t ask for rain if you don’t want to get stuck in the mud,’ meaning if you ask for fame you have to take the whole package,” she said. “And the thing that got me was when he said ‘The reason I’m so successful is because God is number one in my life.’ I thought that was so amazing.”
Although the teenager said she never had a “crush” on Hollywood’s most celebrated African-American leading man, between Denzel and Obama, Maria said she was “just in awe more than half of the time.”
“I’ve loved all of (Denzel’s) movies!,” said Maria. “I think he is an amazing person and a great representative for the Boys and Girls clubs of America.”
The following day, she arranged for her picture to be taken with the actor, admitting “I didn’t want to tell him bye because he was awesome. But he gave me a hug and a kiss on my right cheek. I was so excited! And he signed a book for me and it said “To Maria. God Bless. Denzel Washington.” It couldn’t get any better than that!”
With his latest film “Unstoppable” — about a runaway train — due out in November, Maria said she is “totally going to see it.”
“Me and some of my friends here in college have already made plans, because now I can say ‘I know him! He’s awesome and I got to hang out with him one night for dinner and even got to kick it with him at the White House with president Obama!’ How cool is that!”
“When we went into the Oval office I whispered to Denzel, ‘I really want to sit in the president’s chair.’ He thought it was funny that I would get so excited about meeting all these amazing people.
“Then he told President Obama — laughing — that I wanted to sit in his chair. (Obama) said, ‘Yes!’ So I was super excited! I sat in President Obama’s chair. He said I could be the first girl President! It was amazing. He told me I was also sitting where President Kennedy sat, so I felt even more privileged!”
Having dinner with Denzel and discussing education in the Oval office with Obama were honors Cleveland’s Youth of the Year said were dreams turned into reality which taught her another valuable lesson in life.
“Growing up for me — that wasn’t reality,” Maria said. “For many kids at the (Boys and Girls) club meeting someone famous is not a goal you set because you don’t want to be disappointed. So we settle for average goals and average dreams.
“Like me — yes, my dream was always to meet the president, but I never thought it was realistic. My club staff encouraged me to never dream small but to dream big. Sitting at the table with Denzel was like a life lesson taught. There is no dream too big! When you set your mind to make it happen, it’s magical! And the only person stopping you from making your dreams come true is you.”
Maria will be a guest speaker at the Southeast Boys and Girls Clubs of America Chairman’s Dinner on Oct. 14, in Atlanta, Ga.
For further information about the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, call 559-8299.