A young woman from the U.S. Naval Academy is making strides as the first Black female brigade commander.
“I feel extremely privileged and blessed to be part of that history, and when I see other females making history, like (Vice President) Kamala Harris and so many others, I just can’t help but smile,” said Midshipman First Class Sydney Barber.
Barber, of Lake Forest, Illinois, was chosen among 30 candidates as the Naval Academy’s brigade commander. She is the first Black woman to hold that position, which is the highest leadership position within the brigade and it’s similar to being student body president. She is the sole representative of all 4,000 midshipmen.
“I carry out the commandant’s intent and the superintendent’s intent, and I also report to him on all things going on within the brigade,” she said.
The 21-year-old mechanical engineering major is a busy woman. She was a walk-on sprinter and hurdler on the Navy women’s varsity track and field team, and she has lettered all three years of competing.
Barber also initiated a STEM outreach program that mentors middle school-aged girls of color. She most recently organized a team of more than 180 midshipmen, faculty and alumni to develop the Midshipman Diversity Team to promote greater diversity, inclusivity and equity within the brigade.
I felt like the type of leader we needed in a time like this is someone who had endless passion and drive and a lot of heart, and I knew that was me and I had what it took,” Barber said.
Barber’s father attended the Naval Academy, and for years, she said she had no plans to follow him. But she’s glad she changed her mind and she’s grateful for those who paved the way. She is the 16th woman to hold the position since the academy started admitting women in 1976.
“I know that their experiences were not as smooth sailing as mine and they struggled to assimilate with their peers and they struggled to be accepted by both alumni and the people they were with every day,” she said.
Barber has a message for little girls who hear her story: “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something and don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something. The dreams that scare you the most are the ones that are worth taking.”
Barber holds the position until May when she graduates. She aspires to commission as a Marine Corps ground officer.