Sydney Barber, 21, recently made US Naval Academy history, becoming the first Black female brigade commander in the academy’s 175-year history.
Midshipman Barber, from Illinois, will be the sixteenth woman selected for this position in the 44 years that women have been attending the Naval Academy. Barber will lead 4,500 fellow midshipmen until she graduates in May. As the brigade commander, Barber will also be responsible for the brigade’s daily activities and professional training.
“Earning the title of brigade commander speaks volumes, but the title itself is not nearly as significant as the opportunity it brings to lead a team in doing something I believe will be truly special,” said Barber in a statement. “I am humbled to play a small role in this momentous season of American history.”
The Naval Academy brigade commander is the highest leadership position in the brigade and is selected through an application and interview process by senior leadership, according to a press release.
“She is a catalyst for action, a visionary, a listener, a doer, and a person driven by compassion, by faith, by a fierce sense of passion and heart full of love,” said Midshipman Ryan Chapman, who currently holds the semester-long position. “Sydney is the perfect person to lead the brigade.”
Barber is a mechanical engineering major with the goal of commissioning as a Marine Corps ground officer. She is also the co-president of the Navy Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club, secretary for the National Society of Black Engineers, and a member of the USNA Gospel Choir and Midshipman Black Studies Club.
In addition to these achievements, Barber is a leader in promoting diversity and inclusion within the brigade. She mobilized a team of more than 180 midshipmen, faculty, and alumni, creating the Midshipman Diversity Team, leading the charge on inclusion and equity in the brigade. She also initiated a STEM outreach program serving middle school girls of color, and led the organization of the first USNA Black Female Network Breakfast.
“We are the architects of our future, and every day we earn the right to carry the torch that was once lit by the heroes, pioneers, and giants who came before us,” Barber said. “I owe everything to every person who paved the way for me, so I now pour my heart and soul into blazing the trail for the generations to come.”
Barber’s historic achievement elicited an emotional reaction from many. Janie Mines, the first Black woman to graduate from the US Naval Academy in 1980, congratulated Barber on Twitter. “This bought me to tears. This young woman, Midshipman Sydney Barber, will be the first Black Female Brigade Commander at the US Naval Academy. 40 years later. Thank you Sydney! Love you!”
Michelle Obama tweeted Barber her congratulations, saying, “Your hard work—and the powerful example you set—are such an inspiration. I’m so proud of you!” Barber shared on Twitter that Obama was her inspiration on this journey. “Your strength, drive, brilliance and grace is what carried me through,” Barber tweeted. “Thank you for leaving the ladder down. I look forward to meeting you at the top.”