LUBBOCK, Texas- The Lubbock Community Theatre has introduced its first touring artist in residence, Austin Dean Ashford.

Ashford has won 21 national championships for speech and debate as well as winning an award for off- Broadway one man show. Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington paid Ashford’s tuition for graduate school, and even wrote his letter of recommendation.

“I was a high school dropout, I had to get my GED but now I am pursuing my Ph.D,” Ashford said. “I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned is in order to be great at anything you have to be willing to be embarrassedly bad.”

Ashford attended Wiley College, which was the setting for Denzel Washington’s 2007 film “The Great Debaters.”

“I was fortunate enough to win 21 national championships with my speech and debate team,” Ashford said. “I met Denzel Washington. I got to perform for him. He cried, he gave me those nice slow Denzel tears and then he said take what you do around the world.”

Ashford has completed two master’s degrees from the University of Arkansas for playwrighting and acting.

“That’s when I was able to go and win best one man show with my first play Island Trap,” Ashford said. “I won 18 awards from the Kennedy centers. I am now Latin Grammy nominated for music because I am also an hip hop cultural for the US embassy.”

He is first Lubbock Community Theatre touring artist in residence, with his Black Book production.

In this production, he’s merged his experience with Washington and his love for debating. Ashford conducts the entire show alone as 13 characters.

Lubbock Community Theater Executive Director, Heather May, shared her excitement for Ashford to perform in the Lubbock community.

“He is all inspiring. Not only do you get involved or enamored with the performances that he gives but he empowers you in such a way that you want to go create,” May said. “Not only is he a performer, but I truly think that he is an advocate and someone who empowers other artist.”

“Somebody has to advocate and be a voice even when it’s not comfortable,” Ashford said. “There is going to be times when you deal with things like death or loosing somebody, how are you going to stand up. How are you going to respond?”

“Black Book” was scheduled to open Friday, January 27. For more information click here.