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.