MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — They gather at the local Uptown Theatre to watch filmmakers put on display their work.

This day it’s about sports, and more — Maya Washington’s documentary on her father’s journey from Texas to Michigan State, furthering integration in college football.

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“It’s just surreal. I’ve been working on this for almost seven years, so to finally get to this moment, I’m just really happy,” Maya said.

It is a project near and dear to this family, because football changed their lives.

“Nobody in my family, because of segregation, had the chance to go on to college. And this was the first opportunity, I had this opportunity, and that means so much to me,” Gene Washington said.

This project is even bigger than that, because it brings together father and daughter to learn about each other.

“It’s such a blessing. Had my dad in my life, my whole life, so that’s a blessing to have a dad. but I really didn’t know anything about his football career before this process. So it’s been really cool to connect over football and spend time together that we never had a chance before in this unique way,” Maya said.

And it is a time to remember that there was a time when things were not equal on the college football playing field.

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“Well it is very exciting for me, and of course when you’re going through that, you don’t really think about the integration type thing,” Gene Washington said. “But now I think about where I came from and how tough it was, and all of the support that Duffy [Daugherty] at Michigan State … our athletic director and our president, President John Hannah, they were all on board in terms on integration.”

Maya’s gift is in the film industry, and this allowed her to bring her passions into focus and remind herself — and others — what once was.

“I hope people really think about the African-American pioneers here in Minnesota, but also throughout the country. People who really paved the way for the next generation of football players both in college and in the pros,” Maya Washington said.

But while she chronicled dad’s life, including time with the Vikings, dad was able to tap into her life — the long and detailed process of bringing stories to life on a big screen.

“She just got the idea that, dad, you came from the segregation and all of you guys went to Michigan State, we got to do a documentary on that. So I’m very proud of her. It’s a lot of work, and she worked at it real hard,” Gene said.

At the end of this journey, it seemed a win-win for everyone involved, to have learned so much and educated so many.

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“Almost seven years. It’ll be like seven years this summer. I can’t imagine not only how my life would’ve been different had my dad not had the opportunities he had as a football player, but now I can’t imagine how my life would be if I hadn’t gone through this process,” Maya Washington said. “I’ve been blessed beyond comprehension in terms of our relationship and just my personal understanding and appreciation for what he and others did.”

Mike Max