By Desmond R. Barnes
Some are the children of D.C. employees who got their good government jobs after then-Mayor Marion Barry opened opportunities for blacks.
Others had their first work experience in his summer jobs program. Many grew up seeing him move around the city â€” chatting up young athletes about going to college; talking to honor students about scholarships; advising troubled youths about getting back on track.
When Council member Barry, 78, of Southeast, died in the wee hours of Nov. 23, young people grieved him just as much as their elders did, except they mourned in their generation’s way â€” through social media.
“RIP to the Mayor of D.C. 4 Life.. st8 soldier that battled for the district till da end,” posted @TameDappa. He attached the hashtag #MarionBarry#RIP#salute #—-tmz #mayor4life.
And when TMZ, a tabloid media outlet, posted a story with a disrespectful headline about the council member’s death, they took to their keyboards to protest. Within minute of its posting, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were deluged with messages criticizing the story with a hashtag that demonstrated the disdain many readers felt for the story.
“Never cared for @tmz but the Marion Barry disrespect is just another reason why I’ve never liked them in the first place,” tweeted @troofforever.
Barry was a folk hero among D.C.’s young as much as he was with many of their parents. He joined legend Chuck Brown onstage at go-go concerts. He made appearances at school events. Popular D.C.-born entertainer Wale mentioned him in his 2013 song “Black Heroes.”
To local youths, Barry was the braveheart who stood up in the face of adversity, the flawed human being who reached down deep to redeem himself. In doing so, he taught them that everybody is worthy of a second act in life.
Yolanda Woodlee, who covered Barry for more than a decade as a political reporter for The Washington Post, said he will always be remembered for his impact on D.C.’s young.
“The summer jobs program is part of his legacy,” said Woodlee. “What people always talk about is that he gave him their first job. They credit him with helping them to establish a work ethic while young and giving them valuable work experience for their resumes. There are whole generations that he helped like that and people won’t forget.”
Aleem Bilal, aka AB the Producer, a music producer from Southeast Washington, said he got his first job in the summer jobs program as a rising freshman in high school.
He said he learned about Barry’s death from Instagram and he also received calls from relatives and friends.
“Marion Barry was my father’s neighbor,” Bilal said.
He said he was “enraged” that anyone would disrespect Barry on the occasion of his death.
“That’s someone’s father, husband. It was low blow to the family,” said Bilal, 26. “It was evil. They did it for attention and a reaction. They don’t care about what he’s done for the community.”
He said Barry will always be remembered by young people for “being a man of his people.”
“Not many saw the vision until he stepped up and became a leader for the people â€” like the Bob Marley of D.C.,” he said.
Davie Celeste, 28, a special-education teacher who lives in Ward 5 in Northeast but was born in Northwest, said she learned of Barry’s death on Facebook. As a 10th grader, she did clerical work and filed legislation for then-Council member Linda Cropp in the summer jobs program.
“I also reviewed proposed bills about taxation without representation,” Celeste said.
She said she was not surprised by the tabloid’s headline. “They don’t have the ingredients for respectability,” she said.
Celeste agreed with Woodlee that Barry will be remembered for the summer youth program which turns 35 this year. She also said Barry is considered a hero among the young for his civil rights work in the South in the 1960s.
“He had a passion for the disenfranchised and [was] always remembering Ward 8 when no one else would,” Celeste said.
One of Barry’s supporters started a petition on Change.org to demand that the TMZ story be taken down. It had more than 10,500 signatures within hours.
Editor-at-large Avis Thomas-Lester contributed to this report.