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All About Kerry Washington's Parents, Valerie and Earl Washington

Scandal star Kerry Washington opened up about her parents, Valerie and Earl, and her upbringing in her 2023 memoir Thicker Than Water

<p>Randy Brooke/WireImage</p> Kerry Washington with her parents Valerie and Earl Washington during the 2017 The Bronx Children

Randy Brooke/WireImage

Kerry Washington with her parents Valerie and Earl Washington during the 2017 The Bronx Children's Museum Gala

Kerry Washington is notoriously private — particularly when it comes to her family. But the Scandal star opened up about her parents and her life as an only child in her 2023 memoir Thicker Than Water.

The book, which was released in September 2023, takes a deep dive into Kerry’s upbringing with her parents: Valerie, a former education professor, and Earl, a retired real estate broker. The memoir also tackles some difficult topics from Kerry’s past, including her abortion, eating disorder, childhood traumas, and learning that Earl was not her biological father as an adult. As painful as those experiences were, Kerry told PEOPLE the process of writing about them was surprisingly therapeutic.

“There’s a phrase, ‘You’re as sick as your secrets,' ” she told PEOPLE. “I think there’s some truth in that. There’s so much healing and liberation in the truth and not feeling like we have to hide.”

The UnPrisoned star also revealed that working on her memoir strengthened her relationship with her parents.

“I really started to have so much more love and compassion and understanding for my parents,” she told PEOPLE. “Taking this deep dive into our family history made me put myself in their shoes and think about the things that they’ve had to navigate and what they’ve been through and what they’ve sacrificed. And it really made me feel closer to them.”

So, who are Valerie and Earl Washington? Here’s everything to know about Kerry Washington’s parents.

They were introduced by Earl’s big sister, Claudell

<p>Kerry Washington Instagram</p> Valerie and Earl Washington

Kerry Washington Instagram

Valerie and Earl Washington

Before Earl and Valerie met, Valerie was friends with Earl’s older sister, Claudell. The two women had been identified as “special and gifted,” according to Kerry’s memoir Thicker Than Water, and attended high school together at Manhattan’s Washington Irving High School. However, “they had no exposure to each other’s place of origin,” Kerry described — which was Bronx for Valerie and Brooklyn for Claudell.

Following high school graduation, Valerie went on to attend college at Hunter Uptown (now known as Lehman College). It was there that she met her first husband — but “after a few tumultuous years” together and a stillbirth, they divorced, Kerry wrote.

Following Valerie’s divorce, Claudell invited her to a family party in Brooklyn. Claudell’s younger brother Earl — a former college athlete at the University of Pittsburgh and member of the U.S. Army — was also there, but with a date. However, he spent the entire evening talking to Valerie, Kerry recounted in her memoir.

Valerie and Earl made plans to meet up the following day at the Rockaways in Queens with some friends. Though the beach date was purely platonic, Earl became smitten with Valerie after witnessing how much she loved the ocean water.

“My dad says that he fell in love with my mother the instant she dove into the ocean,” Kerry said in Thicker Than Water. “It would be many more months before they started to date ... but my dad would later say that the image of my mother frolicking in the surf in a gorgeous two-piece was all the inspiration his heart required."

Earl and Valerie wed on May 27, 1972

<p>Kerry Washington Instagram</p> Valerie and Earl Washington on their wedding day in 1972

Kerry Washington Instagram

Valerie and Earl Washington on their wedding day in 1972

Earl and Valerie were married on May 27, 1972, nearly five years before Kerry was born.

“My parents got married in a small ceremony in St. Ann’s Church in the South Bronx,” Kerry wrote in Thicker Than Water. “My mother wore a pale peach-colored dress that had been crocheted by her mother; my dad wore a Merlot-colored velvet tuxedo.

Kerry shared a photo of her parents’ wedding day — and their colorful ensembles — on her Instagram account to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2022.

“50 years ago today ❤️,” she wrote alongside the throwback photo. “Happy Anniversary Mom + Dad!!!! (who are not on Instagram but I really just wanted to brag about how DOPE my parents looked at their wedding 😂😂😂😂).”

Valerie was an education professor at Lehman College in the Bronx

<p>Kerry Washington Instagram</p> Kerry Washington and Valerie Washington

Kerry Washington Instagram

Kerry Washington and Valerie Washington

After graduating from college, Valerie began her career as a public school teacher in New York City. She spent several years at PS 93 in the Bronx before leaving in 1970 over racial tensions, she told Fordham University in an interview. From there, Valerie was hired by Herbert Lehman College — her alma mater — as a professor of education.

As a child, Kerry had a front-row seat to her mother’s career and often accompanied her while she was teaching.

“I used to sit in the back of lecture halls and watch my mother teach hundreds of students,” she wrote in Thicker Than Water. “I don’t remember a time I didn’t go to my mother’s job. Going to her office was a part of our routine, how we lived our lives with me as the only child of a working mother.”

In addition to visiting her mother’s classrooms, Valerie made learning an “immersive” experience for Kerry. The two would often visit museums, read novels together and listen to lectures. That time spent with her mother — inside and outside the classroom — deeply influenced Kerry, as she revealed in her memoir.

“My mother’s years as an educator, coupled with her own deep love of learning, provided a framework that made me both curious and determined to excel,” she wrote.

Earl held several jobs before becoming a real estate agent

<p>Kerry Washington Instagram</p> Kerry Washington and Earl Washington

Kerry Washington Instagram

Kerry Washington and Earl Washington

While Valerie’s entire career was spent in education, Earl worked in a variety of professions.

“Professionally, my dad had a tough time,” Kerry wrote in her memoir. “He worked in financial services, owned a general store and eventually became a real estate agent.”

Earl turned to real estate after his first two business endeavors had soured: He started his career at Dun & Bradstreet, a professional services company, before hitting “the racial glass ceiling of accomplishments,” according to Kerry. Following that, he opened his own general store — but the shop eventually went under. Then, in the mid-1980s, Earl became a real estate agent and opened his own brokerage, United Realty.

“This venture became his newest opportunity to chase the American Dream,” Kerry wrote about United Realty.

Valerie wanted Kerry to be a lawyer

<p>Stefanie Keenan/Getty </p> Valerie Washington and Kerry Washington at the 2015 Baby2Baby Gala

Stefanie Keenan/Getty

Valerie Washington and Kerry Washington at the 2015 Baby2Baby Gala

Valerie and Earl supported Kerry’s creative talents throughout her childhood: She performed with a youth theater group, took ballet classes and appeared in all of the plays while she attended Manhattan’s Spence School, an elite private school whose alumni include Gwyneth Paltrow and Emmy Rossum.

“My mom saw this very active, imaginative, talkative child and just tried to find ways to channel that energy, whether it was the children’s theater company or ballet class or trips to the library,” Kerry told Ebony magazine in 2013. “Whatever it was, she was supportive of my brain activity.”

However, when Kerry revealed that she wanted to pursue acting professionally, her mother had a different idea.

She really, really wanted me to go to law school,” Kerry revealed to PEOPLE in 2020. “Oh my God, it’s what she begged me to do.”

Kerry continued, “She used to say to me, ‘Closing arguments are just like monologues.’ She was terrified to have a starving artist of a child.”

Though her mother wasn’t initially supportive of her career choice, Kerry wrote in her memoir that she became the actress she is today because of her upbringing.

“My mother’s drive to educate me, mixed with my dad’s endless imagination, encoded within me the artist that I would become,” she wrote.

Kerry is cousins with the late Colin Powell through her mother

<p>Kerry Washington Instagram</p> Colin Powell

Kerry Washington Instagram

Colin Powell

Playing Olivia Pope on Scandal isn’t Kerry’s only connection to the White House: She is also cousins with former Secretary of State Colin Powell through her mother, Valerie.

Kerry revealed Powell was her cousin when she delivered the commencement address at her alma mater, George Washington University, in 2013.

“As a proud alum of this institution, I celebrate you and I welcome you into the great lineage and legacy of GW,” she said to the graduates. “Today you join the ranks of ... statesmen and women like my cousin, Colin Powell.”

Kerry paid tribute to her late cousin on Instagram when he died in October 2021.

“Growing up, you were a phenomenal source of inspiration,” she wrote alongside an old photo of Powell outside the White House. “Your accomplishments were tremendous. Your spirit was gloriously generous. From my family, our family, from my neighborhood, our neighborhood. Your legacy will continue to live on, in all of us. Rest In Peace Gen. Colin Powell ❤️🙏🏾.”

Kerry discovered Earl was not her biological father in 2018

<p>Kerry Washington Instagram</p> Kerry Washington and Earl Washington

Kerry Washington Instagram

Kerry Washington and Earl Washington

After trying to conceive for five years, Earl and Valerie used an anonymous sperm donor to get pregnant with Kerry. However, they kept their decision a secret for decades — even from their daughter.

It wasn't until 2018 that Earl and Valerie revealed to Kerry they had used an anonymous sperm donor to conceive her, Kerry revealed in 2023.

The decision to open up about her biological father came after Kerry agreed to appear on Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Finding Your Roots, the PBS series where celebrities can uncover their ancestors and genealogy through DNA testing. Valerie and Earl first revealed their secret to Gates privately, who encouraged them to be honest with Kerry before filming. As a result, her parents texted her in the spring of 2018, inviting her to a family meeting. During their sit-down, Valerie and Earl revealed the truth about how they conceived Kerry more than 40 years prior.

“It really turned my world upside down,” Kerry told PEOPLE in 2023 about the revelation.

But despite the initial shock, the actress shared that her parents’ honesty brought them closer than they had ever been in the past.

“My parents are really, really special people,” Kerry said. “At some point we have to accept that our parents do the best they can and then we have to fill in the gap by parenting ourselves and being the adults we want to be. I always knew how much they loved me.”

She added, “I think I learned a lot about myself, why I struggled and felt incomplete a lot of my life.”

Kerry pokes fun at Earl’s “dad jokes” on Instagram

<p>Kerry Washington Instagram</p> Kerry Washington and Earl Washington

Kerry Washington Instagram

Kerry Washington and Earl Washington

Kerry frequently posts clips of her father telling corny jokes on her Instagram account with the hashtag #DadJoke. On his most recent birthday (May 23), Kerry even coined Earl as “the Emperor of Dad Jokes” on her Instagram.

In one of their “Dad Jokes” videos from May 2022, Kerry and Earl appeared wearing pairs of “dad-jeans.” Earl remarked on their attire with a denim-themed quip.

“How does a pair of jeans cool themselves off?” Earl asked Kerry in the clip, before declaring, “They pant!”

Kerry even referenced Earl’s wit — and his Instagram presence — in Thicker Than Water.

“Earl Washington loves to laugh and create and dream and tell stories,” she wrote. “You need look no further than my Instagram feed to witness how he commands a space with charm.”

Kerry thinks Valerie is the “strongest, bravest woman” she knows

<p>Brad Barket/Getty</p> Valerie Washington and Kerry Washington at the newly opened Oscar de la Renta Boutique in NYC in 2004

Brad Barket/Getty

Valerie Washington and Kerry Washington at the newly opened Oscar de la Renta Boutique in NYC in 2004

When Kerry curated a capsule collection of jewelry with Aurate for Mother’s Day in 2021, she appeared in the campaign alongside her mother. The stunning images featured the mother and daughter together on the beach, as the collection was “inspired by elements of the ocean,” Kerry shared with PEOPLE.

Working with her mother on the jewelry campaign was especially meaningful for Kerry.

“It means the world to me that I get to share this with my beautiful mother,” she wrote on Instagram. “She inspires me every single day to be a better daughter and a better mother — to my kids, my companies, my ideas, my dreams and even my inner self.”

Kerry’s selfless love for her mother Valerie was made even more evident when she explained how she likes to celebrate Mother’s Day to PEOPLE. The actress, who is a mother of three herself, prefers to spend the day honoring her own mother — rather than celebrating herself.

“I love celebrating my mom. Because, she’s amazing!” Kerry told PEOPLE when asked about her Mother’s Day traditions. “She is the strongest, bravest woman I know. And she has devoted her life to improving the lives of young people. So, honoring her on this special day always means so much to me."

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