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Focus on Service

In The Face Of Adversity

From Navy Chief of Chaplains to serving the Senate

When his 27-year Navy career was coming to a close in summer of 2003, Rear Adm. Barry Black, then the 22nd Chief of Chaplains, continued his commitment to providing spiritual advisement to others when he was selected as the 62nd Senate Chaplain.

During his time in the Navy, Black left a long legacy behind him to include being the only African American Fleet Chaplain, only African American to be a one star chaplain of the Marine Corps, the only African American Deputy Chief of Chaplains for the Navy and is the only African American Chief of Chaplains.

Black was elected as Senate Chaplain on June 27, 2003, and for over a decade Black has opened the Senate each day in prayer, provided spiritual care and counseling for more than 6,000 people, from senators and their families to the Senate staff.

"Serving in the Navy has been a deeply moving part of my life," said Black in 2003 when he was elected to serve the Senate after his Navy retirement. "I shall miss the great men and women of the Chaplain Corps, and the entire Navy, but my family and I greatly look forward to our new role."

3 photos from left to right: Black at his retirement ceremony; Black giving a speech; Black at his retirement ceremony.

Black grew up on the streets of Baltimore during a time in the city's history that was deemed a toxic environment. He faced many challenges as a young African American. According to Black, he received a childhood visit from a county social worker that saw his future as bleak with the stereotypical probability of incarceration and early death. Not only did Black soar past this predictor, he overcame this adversity and worked his way up the Navy ranks to become not only the first African American to lead the Chaplain Corps, but Senate chaplain as well.

When Black was Chief of Chaplains, he did a number of services that were televised so when the Senate was looking for clergymen to nominate for Chaplain of the Senate, Black's name came up. But, naturally, he was not the only person being nominated. While getting a nomination is a tough task, Black also had to endure three arduous interviews. In the end it was all worth it and Black credits his nomination to some of the lessons he learned during his naval service.

While Black has had many successes in overcoming his early challenges, as is evidenced by his position today, nothing was handed to him on a silver platter. One could look at him today and never realize the racial discrimination he faced, even from the Navy that he loved.

I think the first challenge was a frontal assault in terms of discrimination [describing the racial climate of 1976]. One of my first evaluators used the "N" word and then talking to me it was obvious that he looked at me in a racist way."
-Rear Adm. Barry Black
The struggle was real. And it wasn't going to go away overnight.

"The environment was not exactly hospitable when I first came into the Navy in 1976," said Black. "In the 27 years that I spent in [the Navy] an amazing turn over [has happened] and a lot of people in terms of denomination and in terms of ethnic ethnicity and gender that were not there to that extent when I first came in."

He wrote about some of these exploits in his 2006 autobiography, "From the Hood to the Hill," talking about his humble beginnings with his mother and seven siblings to his current calling as Senate chaplain.

As the Senate chaplain, Black plans and participates in special observances, leads interdenominational prayer gatherings, and cultivates relationships with local clergy and leaders of humanitarian agencies.

3 photos from left to right: Black giving a speech; Black during a cake cutting.

"I see my role as the chaplain to be a confidential counselor, spiritual adviser, scripture teacher, intercessor, and friend to the senators, their spouses, and the Senate staff as they seek to discover and live God's wonderful plan," said Black at a recent African-American/Black History month held at Navy Installations Command in Washington, D.C.

Black's life stands as an example that while we don't always get a say in where our life story begins, we do have a say in where it's going.

For more information on the Navy Chaplain Corps visit their official blog.

For information on the chaplaincy in the U.S. Senate visit Senate Chaplain.

Graphic for Chaplains at Sea. A photo of a chaplains hand lighting a candle.