“Mayor for Life” Marion Barry shaped modern Washington during his 30-year political career.
By Adoria Doucette
Marion Barry passed away on November 23, 2014 after 30 years in politics. (Courtesy D.C. City Council)
While hundreds of dignitaries flocked to the nation’s capital last week to pay tribute to Marion Barry, the late Mayor and City Council member would have been most proud of the tens of thousands of young people, elderly, and average District residents that lined the streets for three days of celebration. Over nine hours of official events took place throughout Washington, prior to Barry being laid to rest. Within 12 hours of his death, a group of local residents gathered in front of his home in Southeast Washington and led a candlelight vigil through the streets of his beloved city. For 11 days, the city and the world responded with respect for the service that Barry provided the average men, women and children of Washington, D.C. during his 30 years in power. The culmination of this celebration was marked with tributes from an entire roster of regional government, business, and community leaders. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reflected fondly on Barry’s attention to government effectiveness. Attorney General Eric Holder, and Presidential Advisor Valerie Jarrett attended the funeral to pay their respects. His Eminence Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, led an interfaith prayer for peace and unity. The entire city focused on the extraordinary life and positive impact this man had on our city.
Washington evolved in enormous ways during Barry’s lifetime. Much of this change was due to his tireless efforts for progress. The Mayor for Life’s death on November 23rd marked a moment in time that must be properly acknowledged by all, and learned from for our next Mayor.
As a young man, Barry was exceptionally gifted and influential in representing the interests of individuals around the nation. While pursuing his PhD in Chemistry, he was the only African American in the program, Barry witnessed the horrors of racism and suspended his doctoral studies to focus on making things better for as many people as possible. Barry was selected as first Chairman of the National Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was one of the most prominent civil rights organizations in the world at the heart of the transformation of the United States in the ’60s towards the legislative destruction of overt structural racism.
Prior to being elected Mayor, Barry worked tirelessly and successfully to bring independence to many areas of government in Washington D.C., where many others had failed before. Our public officials often brag about “fighting for what is right” but they typically lose. Barry utilized his exceptional intellect and political skill to win the most important political battles on behalf of the silenced citizens of Washington, D.C. He became the most prominent civil rights leader to be elected to leadership in a major city, and it was at this time that his epic influence blossomed as the Mayor of Washington D.C. The average citizen of the District worshiped Barry for one simple reason – he used his power to empower others. The same supreme intellect that allowed him to pursue his PhD in Chemistry was on display as he engineered his navigation of local and federal bureaucracy to create as many jobs and educational opportunities for those that were typically shut out of gainful employment and education within the city.
In the most political city in the world, Barry thrived as a masterful politician himself. His ability to deliver for the common citizen, while wrestling with Congress and federal agencies, has been unmatched. Washington D.C. has the most affluent African American citizenry in the world; this would not be without the life and work of Marion Barry. Our modern transformation as a world class city would not have been possible without the life and work of Marion Barry.
Muriel Browser would be well served by learning from Barry’s example and trying her best to serve the youth and disenfranchised during her first term as Mayor beginning next year.
Power Source is an insider’s view of power networks and activities that contribute to the continued dominance of our nation’s ideals, institutions and individuals. Ms. Doucette has privately orchestrated projects for the world’s most influential individuals, celebrated personalities, and corporations. Based in Washington D.C., Ms. Doucette is a proud native of New Orleans, Louisiana. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org