Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber was named the first African American female brigade commander for the 2021 spring semester. This was the first in the 175-year history of the US Naval Academy (USNA).
The brigade commander is the highest leadership position in the brigade. As brigade commander, Barber led 4,500 midshipmen in their day-to-day activities and training until May, when she graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Brigade commanders are selected through an application and interview process by senior leadership from the Commandant’s staff. Barber was one of thirty applicants selected to be interviewed for the position.
Sydney is from Lake Forest, Illinois. Although her father graduated from the Academy in 1991, she initially had little interest in attending the Academy. However, following a visit that produced good feelings, she was convinced that it was the place to be, a place where she could work on skills that would allow her to give back through service.
As a midshipman, Barber was very active. She was a walk-on sprinter and hurdler in the Navy Women’s Varsity Track Team, lettering in all three of the years she competed. She holds the Academy’s record for the outdoor 4x400m relay. She was also co-president of the Navy Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club and secretary for the National Society of Black Engineers. Additionally, Barber participated in the Midshipman Black Studies Club and the Academy’s Gospel Choir. She initiated a STEM outreach program that used mentoring, literature, and service to support middle school-aged girls of color. Midshipman Barber also led a team that organized the inaugural USNA Black Female Network Breakfast. This effort was designed to bridge the gap between current black midshipmen and alumni.
Before graduating, Barber was credited with mobilizing 180 midshipmen, faculty, and alumni to develop the Midshipmen Diversity Team, which promoted diversity, inclusivity, and equity within the brigade. Further, she was featured in the Naval Academy Founder’s Day video and invited to speak at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Visitors and the Academy’s congressional oversight committee.
Before becoming brigade commander, midshipman Barber served as the 13th company’s executive officer and the brigade’s 1st regimental executive officer. Janie Mines, the first African American female to graduate from USNA in 1980, who had served as one of Barber’s mentors, was so excited when she learned of Barber’s selection as brigade commander, tweeted, “This brought me to tears . . .Thank you, Sydney! Love you!”
Following graduation, Barber was commissioned as a ground officer in the US Marine Corps, a highly competitive, much sought-after assignment.