Sydney Barber to Be the 1st Black Woman to Lead Brigade of Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy

November 12, 2020 Updated: November 12, 2020

A Lake Forest, Illinois, trailblazer is making history as the first Black woman brigade commander at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The academy announced Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber’s appointment on Nov. 6. She will supersede Midshipman 1st Class Ryan Chapman for the spring 2021 semester, and in doing so she becomes the 16th woman ever to take the role since women were allowed into the academy in 1976.

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Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Nathan Burke/U.S. Navy/AP)

In a statement, Barber acknowledged that earning the title speaks volumes. “[B]ut 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,” she said, adding, “I am humbled to play a small role in this momentous season of American history.”

As a brigade commander, Barber will oversee professional training and day-to-day activities for the Naval Academy’s more than 4,400 midshipmen, according to its website.

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The U.S. Naval Academy in downtown Annapolis, Maryland, pictured on Oct. 21, 2012 (Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock)

Barber spoke of Janie Mines, the first Black woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1980 in a video posted on YouTube for the U.S. Naval Academy Founder’s Day on Oct. 10. Barber shared that Mines’s legacy inspires her to “follow her footsteps and be her wildest dream.”

Mines replied on LinkedIn, writing, “40 years later, Sydney, you did it. You are my wildest dream. Thank you for all the hard work. So well deserved.”

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Midshipman Janie L. Mines in 1980, the first Black female to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy (U.S. Naval Academy)

Chapman, the current brigade commander, praised Barber for being “a catalyst for action,” “a visionary,” and a person “driven by compassion, by faith, by a fierce sense of passion and heart full of love.”

Barber, he said, is the perfect person in leading the brigade.

Lt. Cmdr. Darby Yeager, who serves on the U.S. Naval Academy’s Truman Scholarship selection committee, commended Barber for standing out among her peers.

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Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on April 9, 2018. (Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)

Barber, who is on the Navy Women’s Varsity Track and Field team and harbors and holds leadership positions in various student organizations, aspires to become a Marine Corps ground officer later in her career. A mechanical engineering major who graduated from Lake Forest High School in Illinois, Barber already runs a STEM mentorship program for young girls of color and became a 2020 Truman Scholar national finalist for her research into education disparities in minority communities.

Barber explained that it motivates her to know she’s standing on the shoulders of giants. “I hope that one day I can also be the giant, that someone else can stand on my shoulders, too,” she said.

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