Midshipman First Class Sydney Barber

Midshipman First Class Sydney Barber made history as the U.S. Naval Academy’s first Black female brigade commander. Her duties include carrying out the commandant’s intent, in addition to the superintendent’s. She also reports on what occurs within the brigade. Barber has been actively involved in humanitarian efforts plus she initiated a program to mentor girls of color in STEM. When Barber graduates in May, she strives to commission as a Marine Ground Corps officer. Courtesy Photo/U.S. Naval Academy

Making it to the United States Naval Academy is already an ambitious feat, but Midshipman First Class Sydney Barber took an extra big leap or two. Barber, a mechanical engineering major who hails from Lake Forest, Illinois, became the first Black woman brigade commander. The ambitious 21-year-old woman will oversee all 4,000 midshipmen within the brigade, until she graduates in May.

“It’s the first time that there has been a Black woman who’s held this position, and I am extremely humbled, knowing the struggles before me,” Barber said.

“Being here in this position, I’d say I [have] never also seen someone be a brigade commander, or hold a high position of leadership that was African-American, or female, just in my time here. So what I hope is that people who come after me can look and see themselves I me, and see  themselves, not just in the way that I look, but in the way that I lead, and in the way that I conduct myself,” Barber said, in an interview with The Baltimore Times.

Barber also remarked that when she came to the Naval Academy, it was not initially on her radar to become the brigade commander. She was on a path to better herself and develop as a leader in the manner in order to be the best version of herself.

However, along the way, any opportunity that caused her to stretch and work for new achievement became a part of her journey. Becoming a Navy track and field athlete was one component. In her junior year, she pursued the Truman Scholarship.

The U.S. Naval Academy reported that Barber completed a seven-week internship with the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory two summers ago. While there, she was instrumental in doing breakthrough research on bio-electrochemical uses for carbon nanotubes.

It was also mentioned that her research in developing legislative strategies to address education disparities in minority communities earned her selection as a 2020 Truman Scholar national finalist.

“Sydney stands out among her peers, for not only for her exemplary record, but for her clear vision of how she intends to make the world a better place and her accompanying bias for action,” said Lt. Cmdr. Darby Yeager, a member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Truman Scholarship selection committee, adding that they were incredibly proud to have Barber represent the Naval Academy in her Truman Scholarship interview.

Barber remained focused and driven. She continued taking advantage of every opportunity to better herself and when the opportunity presented itself to be considered for the brigade commander position, Barber says she felt that there was no better way for her to make an impact on individuals around her.

Barber remains committed to her career and humanitarian service interests, which began with church mission trips to help build houses in the Dominican Republic. She also traveled to India during her formative years.

Barber says that giving back to her country was the best avenue to pursue her goal to make an impact on the world at large as best she could. Although military service is in Barber’s blood since her father graduated from the Naval Academy in the class of 1991, this doesn’t mean that she hasn’t faced her own unique challenges. The loss of a classmate and unexpectedly being faced with leading fellow midshipmen during the pandemic have been two challenging hurdles she has faced as brigade commander.

There is no book that could teach her how to be the leader during trying times. She says that she was tasked with finding ways to show people that she cared, while unifying the team.

“There’s no leadership book that can tell you exactly what to say, but you have to speak with your heart,” Barber said. Barber gets back to the basics to stay grounded. Sleeping, exercising, meditating and praying are habits she utilizes to push forward and upward.

“My faith is my number one strength for me. I feel like I am nothing without the grace of God.”