Sunday, Nov 23, 2014 was a SAD Day for many of DC’s Born & Raised Citizens as we learned that our Mayor for Life, Marion Barry, passed away after complications from his long term illness with Diabetes. I immediately posted a heartfelt RIP to social media about the loss and several of my friends, who consider me to be a logical and rational person, private messaged me to ask HOW could I miss a politician who embarrassed a city internationally by his local shenanigans culminating in his crack smoking on film resulting in a jail term. My response to them? While many people despised him for his personal demons that played out on the public stage embarrassing a city, “CHOCOLATE CITY “ LOVED this man! He helped SO MANY PEOPLE get a foothold into society, providing many with their first job ever including ME. He also represented a defiant mayor who wouldn’t be cowered by a meddling Congress nor business interests who sought to manipulate the city into only operating on behalf of the Establishment at the detriment of the Working Class Natives. In the words of my friend Herb White, Marion Barry was a “Warrior for the People”. And THAT in a nutshell is my short and sweet answer of my continual respect, admiration, and affection for Marion Barry despite his personal failings. He was FOR THE PEOPLE and that, NO ONE could deny. Regardless of his mishaps, I think history will ultimately be kind to him. Check out his Official Washington Post Obituary.
Before Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s drug escapades, “Crackhead Mayor” was the asterick forever attached to Marion Barry’s name after that unfortunate interlude with an old friend captured on surveillance, who basically entrapped him per instructions from the FBI into smoking crack for a chance at getting some Arse (BITCH SET ME UP STYLE). But initially, Marion Barry was WELL KNOWN as a very smart local civil rights activist and a canny local politician on the national stage. He didn’t kowtow to the establishment of DC and even when he did, he always allowed a seat at the table for the working class native Washingtonians (I.E. Poor Black People) providing them with access and opportunity so that they TOO could move up in society and benefit from the government largess that was routinely denied them in years past.
Generations of young people including MYSELF were guaranteed their first job by Marion Barry’s Legendary Summer Job Program for DC Kids. These jobs weren’t just BS jobs to get a paycheck but they were opportunities for young people to get exposed to a better life via wonderful internships and inspired me to look beyond my immediate surroundings for a better life! Your assignment for a summer job could be based on your GPA combined with your professed interests when you signed up for the program. My first job at 14yrs old was a internship at the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, MD. For 8 weeks, I was paid to print out the weather reports and draw out weather patterns indicated every day under my grumpy old teddy bear supervisor, whose name escapes me at the moment. It was an awesome experience that opened up my whole world because he told me he earned $120K doing this boring work and that was all the motivation I needed to continue to do well in school and to focus on attending college as my reality. At age 15, my summer job was at the Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, MD. Among the many amazingly cool tests I had to perform on the daily was the particularly gruesome job of randomly counting the # of insect parts in Bread to make sure the ratio remained under 60 insect parts per slice. I’ve never looked at bread the same way since! At 16, I had taken a music course from Mrs. Portis at HD Woodson HS and she was suitably impressed with my voice and recommended that I apply for her Acting/Singing program within the summer job program. I auditioned for her troupe, made the audition, and was assigned to her program for my paid internship. That experience was EVERYTHING for me. Although I ended up not being a fan of Mrs. Portis due to her nefarious leadership style of divide and conquer paired with messy head games she played on students to achieve certain ends, my tenure with her for the next 2 summers sealed my fate as someone who was enamored of the Arts. ALL of these MARVELOUS experiences were possible through Marion Barry’s Summer Youth Employment Program! Although his program was the last time I ever worked for the government, many kids were able to flip their internships into REAL JOBS in the government after high school. Marion Barry made Life Long Fans with programs like these and MORE!
Marion Barry was considered a Titan among the Local DC Politicians. He took up and represented many issues that were ignored by the local media and bought much needed attention to people who never had a voice before. He played rough and tough in racial politics and it earned him many enemies that, combined with his own personal demons, helped to put him squarely in the firing scope of powerful interests who were determined to bring him down. To be sure, He was no saint and played fast and loose with some of the rules like many politicians who become heady with such power resulting in varying degrees of abuse of his position. But the truth of the matter is that despite all of these failings, he did a WHOLE LOT of good in his early years. He will be considered a SAINT to many in Urban and Black DC, Real Talk. For me, my opinion will never change that Marion Barry was a Political Lion and he gets ALL of my respect for his Achievements AND for coming back with his head high after suffering great challenges to his reputation. RIP to a great man!