Police Chief Shares Thoughts On Race

By David Nakamura and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 17, 2008

Channel-hopping Saturday night, the Notebook stumbled onto a panel discussion about race relations in the United States on MSNBC. Among the guests was D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.

Lanier was selected, we assume, for her unusual role as a white female chief in a predominantly black male department. She was on the panel at Howard University with radio host Tom Joyner, author Michael Eric Dyson, entrepreneur Malaak Compton-Rock, screenwriter Kriss Turner, writer Kevin Powell and columnist Mike Barnicle. "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams moderated.

Among the talkative guests, Lanier didn't do much talking. Here is a sampling of her comments:

On the public's perception of her: "When I walk into a community, the first thing people see is not my race but my uniform. It symbolizes something to everyone right off the bat. To some it symbolizes fear and oppression, and to some it symbolizes hope. . . . I have 30 seconds to define what this uniform means."

On a changing city: "The real tension in our community is the economy. Now in D.C., development is unbelievable in how the city has turned around. When you have a public housing complex with a 340-unit condo around it, you have rich black people and rich white people moving into it. And those people in the condo have different cultures that they're used to. And they're going to complain about you next door, and you're going to complain about them. There's the tension."

At one point, Barnicle asked Lanier how many young men who are arrested do not have fathers in the picture. Her answer: 75 to 80 percent don't "have a father or a man at all."

Later, she got personal when she jumped back in to stress that she did not want to give the impression that "because there is not a father present a child cannot be successful. . . . I'm a single parent myself, raised by a single parent. What is critical is . . . to have one person who loves you and cares about you and tells you you're going to make it."

A Very Happy Birthday

Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou celebrated her 80th birthday recently at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., with a few of her closest celebrity friends, including a hometown one, Cora Masters Barry.

Oprah Winfrey hosted the three-day affair, with a star-studded guest list that included Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Cicely Tyson, Andrew Young, Susan Taylor, Tyler Perry and Dorothy Height. The District's former first lady, who has been friends with Angelou for some 20 years, said friends traveled from as far as Africa to participate in the occasion.

"It was like a big family reunion," Barry said. "It was fascinating and heartwarming to see how Oprah pulled out all the stops for her mentor and mother-friend."

Trump and his wife, Melania, also joined in the festivities. At Sunday's gospel bunch, Trump "was getting his praise on," said Barry, who has known him since her days on the city's Boxing Commission.

"He was gracious and very involved," she said. "I have never seen him so relaxed."

It was only fitting that Barry celebrate Angelou's birthday. She's part of an inner circle of friends who have celebrated the past four Thanksgivings together in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Angelou recited an original poem at Barry's wedding in 1994 to D.C. Council member and former mayor Marion Barry. She also performed at Barry's inauguration in January 1995, after he was elected for the fourth time. More recently, Angelou attended the wedding of Cora Barry's daughter, Tamara Masters Lawson, in 2006.


Last week, the Notebook incorrectly reported when former D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. went to work for Pepco. He went to the utility company in February 2007.

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