Watch CBS News

Celebrating Black History Makers: Sydney Barber Is First Black Female Brigade Commander At U.S. Naval Academy

CHICAGO (CBS) -- At 21 years old, a Lake Forest native became the first Black female brigade commander ever at the U.S. Naval Academy.

CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot introduced us to this Black History Maker on Thursday night.

"Waking up early in the morning and then just having back to back meetings all day long on top of school," said Midshipman Capt. Sydney Barber.

To say Barber is busy would be an understatement.

"I'm a co-president for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club. I'm taking my Marine Corps practicum class, which is just my preparation class for my career in the Marine Corps. I'm trying to finish off my mechanical engineering degree with 17 credits. Track team," Barber said. "It's a lot all at once."

She sleeps about five and a half hours each night and has 17-and-a-half-hour-long days. But Barber wouldn't have it any other way.

"Man, it's been a blessing!" Barber said. "I don't think that I've grown so much in such a short period of time than I have in just the over a month that I've been in this position."

The Lake Forest native and Lake Forest High School class of 2017 graduate and track team standout is the first Black female brigade commander in the 175-year history of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Le Mignot: "What was that feeling like when you got the news?"

Barber: "I first got the news, it didn't feel real. It was extremely humbling."

Barber oversees more than 4,000 midshipmen.

"My role is to be kind of like the student body president for the entire brigade," she said. "I'm responsible for every single one of those midshipmen, and I take that to heart."

Barber said she knows the position not only comes with great responsibility, but something else - the acknowledgement of those who paved the way for her to be where she is today - like Janie Mines.

"She would talk about, you know, people hurling epithets and racial slurs at her," Barber said.

Mines was the only Black woman in the first class of women in the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976. Barber met Mines in 2019, during her sophomore year.

"Her professors refusing to give her any sort of academic help - or people spitting at her, people physically abusing her, different things like that, that I could just not even imagine," Barber said.

As a Black woman, Barber says Mines' experience keeps her focused on her new role. She also said her faith and yearly mission trips to help those in need keep her grounded. She also credits her parents, Kenneth and Gabrielle Barber, with her success.

"I owe everything to them and the sacrifices they made since I was since I was very young," Barber said. "I'm extremely grateful for the way that they influenced me; the way that they brought me to church and made sure that that was a very integral part of my life."

But Barber said one of the biggest inspirations in her life is her middle brother, Justin. He was born blind, deaf, and handicapped; and given just two years to live.

Justin celebrated his 19th birthday this past May.

"We don't know what tomorrow will bring," Barber said. "He continues to bring every single person in my life joy. He continues to bring me joy every day. That's the attitude that I try to embody is living every day to the fullest and being grateful for every moment."

Le Mignot asked Barber what her message would be for other young Black girls who aspire to do what she does.

"You have to maximize every single day and do everything you can to reach your fullest potential," Barber said.

And that's something Midshipman Captain Sydney Barber is doing - every single day.

Barber graduates from the U.S. Naval Academy in May. She then starts Marine Corps boot camp.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.