It was in the early 1980’s when I first met Mayor Barry and recognized that he was both a skilled politician and absolutely dedicated to young people in the District of Columbia. In his first term — the early years of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) — LAYC operated a small summer program. The youth were working, but their paychecks were not arriving on time; the youth were not happy. They got organized and decided to sit-in at Mayor Barry’s office. Somehow he found out about it, perhaps from our phone calls informing him that the youth had not been paid. As the youth were engaged in planning their sit-in, I heard someone walking up the old creaky stairs at our site on 15th Street, NW. Mayor Barry was standing in the door with a big smile on his face. He walked in, shook the hand of each young person and began a conversation. The young people could not believe that the Mayor cared about their circumstance so much that he had come to LAYC to meet them. Several days later, the youth were paid. That began a long-term connection between the Mayor, LAYC, and me.
Like so many in the District of Columbia, I have many Mayor Barry stories. Perhaps most important is what he did for the youth in our city. I have been involved in youth work for over 35 years. To the best of my knowledge, no other city in the United States has as vibrant a summer youth employment program as we do. That is a testament to Mayor Barry’s commitment to young people in this town. When he was Mayor, the city also offered a large after-school and year-round employment program for young people.
From LAYC’s earliest years, Marion Barry invested in our work and supported our activities. He and I had many conversations about our city’s youth and the challenges that recent Latino immigrants were experiencing. Mayor Barry created the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs. Over the years, as other Mayors tried to diminish its role, Mayor Barry never wavered from this commitment. While not Mayor during the 1991 disturbances in the Mt. Pleasant community, he walked the streets with community leaders doing all that was necessary to quell the violence and ensure safety for all.
I will miss his warm welcome in the halls of the City Council. Never without a smile, never without a kind word, he always wanted to know how LAYC was faring. He would thank me for my service and leadership; that meant so much to me coming from a man who dedicated his life to serving those who needed him most. Thank you, Mayor Barry for caring about young people and especially for caring about youth of color.