Baltimore Son, 'Blessed with Undeserved Favor from God,' Rises to Top Navy Chaplain
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 12, 2002 "It took 225 years to get a chief of chaplains that has my paint job," said Chaplain (Rear Adm.) Barry C. Black, a Seventh-day Adventist.
Black, the first African American chief of Navy chaplains, pointed out that the military "is a microcosm of society and we reflect society." He became chief of Navy chaplains in August 2000, in time to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Navy Chaplain Corps, formed on Nov. 28, 1775. The Navy created the chief of chaplains position in November 1917.
Noting that African-American sailors were pushed into servant roles -- officers' stewards and cooks -- during the first decades of the 20th century, Black said: "When African Americans were stewards in the Navy, they were also stewards in the civilian sector, porters on railroads cars and that kind of thing. The military, however, led the way in providing opportunities for African Americans to prove what they can do.
Everyone should always look for opportunities to build bridges, said Black, who was commissioned as a Navy chaplain in 1976.
He said if he were talking to a group of young service members today, "I would first challenge them to appreciate what success is. It's the achieving of worthy goals. I would challenge them to have worthy goals -- not just materialistic goals, but goals related to serving people."
The chaplain would also "challenge them to have a connection with the transcendent God that their greatest desire is not to achieve the applause of human beings, but to please the God who created them.
"The end game in life, where you want to be when it comes time to check out, is to have released all the music that God has put in you," the admiral said. "Don't die with any of the music left. If God, for instance, has given you some writing ability and you never tapped that music, the world is poorer. If God gave you a singing gift, but you never tapped it, the world is poorer.
"If you die with the music God put in you to share with the world released, then you have been a success, whether you're driving a Mercedes or living in a particular neighborhood or have made certain academic accomplishments," Black said.
He said his faith in God is so strong that "no weapon formed against me will be able to prosper because, if God is for me, who can be against me?" He described himself as "a seeker for truth and a pursuer of the transcendent." He believes much of his success has come from actively pursuing God.
"I think that's why I've been blessed with undeserved favor from God. I still have that pursuit of God," Black said.
Reflecting on his childhood, Black said his mother worked as a domestic for $6 a day and his father was unemployed most of the time or not around. He remembers the family being evicted three times before moving into a project in Baltimore. He said the projects were heaven compared to other places the family had lived.
Black credits the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church he attended with helping him to stay out of trouble. A number of them must have seen something good in him, he said, because they encouraged him to rise above poverty and his environment.
"They would make jobs for me," he said. "Some church members would let me scrub their white steps for 25 cents. Another lady paid me to help clean her home, but she was a little more generous."
Black received a Christian education at Baltimore Junior Academy and later the Pine Forge Academy boarding school in Pottstown, Pa. He started out working his way through college, then obtained a student missionary scholarship and spent his junior year as a missionary in Lima, Peru.
An outstanding sprinter in high school and college, Black aspired to compete in the Olympics, but that never happened. He also played college basketball and sang in a choir and a quartet.
"Most of the music experts thought I was a wonderful singer and had great potential, but, unfortunately, the audience didn't agree," Black quipped.
The military ministry provides an opportunity for people to build community and to get to know one another, Black noted.
"It's an exciting ministry opportunity for people from all ethnic backgrounds," said the admiral, who plans to retire in August 2003. "It enables you to worship in a pluralistic setting in a way that you wouldn't if you were in one church from a particular denomination. When I joined the military, I only intended to stay for three years, but I found myself receiving such fulfillment from the work that it has now been 25 years."