The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Marion Barry’s legacy was built on thousands of summer jobs

Marion Barry talks during the “Topping-Out” ceremony for the new Ballou Senior High School campus on July 15, 2014, in Washington. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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In the very first hours after Marion Barry’s death Sunday morning, family and close aides gathered at United Medical Center to mourn his passing.

A 4 a.m. news conference attracted not only those close Barry companions, but also a few with a more distant but still deep bond with the former mayor: He’d given them their first real job.

Humam Abdulmalik, 58, sat quietly in the hospital auditorium as news of Barry’s death was announced. Asked afterward why he felt compelled to come in the predawn hours, he cited that first summer job — in 1979, at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church.

“One of the greatest politicians Washington, D.C., ever had,” Abdulmalik said.

While Barry’s national profile has long been indelibly fixed on his 1990 drug arrest, he won the abiding esteem of a generation of Washingtonians through his Summer Youth Employment Program — which Barry launched in 1979 and continues to this day. The jobs weren’t always much — glorified internships, in most cases. But they were a lot more than many youths could expect to find on their own. With the city picking up the check, many employers have been glad to host the young workers for a few weeks and give them their first exposure to the professional world.

Also at the hospital was Kim Harrison, 51, who recalled getting her first job because of Barry’s program, at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“It was a meaningful work experience, not just a job per se,” said Harrison, who now owns a business.

Other recollections rolled in on Twitter, including from actor Jeffrey Wright:

Share your own summer job memory in the comments.