'Redeemed' Barry looks for joyful beginnings

October 04, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

Marion Barry, looking bewildered and old, sat heavily on a bed at the Vista Hotel. His hands were cuffed behind his back. His head was bowed. He looked beaten and deflated and very, very lost.

It is the summer of 1990, and we are looking at a videotape of the FBI's sting operation in which Mr. Barry, then the mayor of Washington, D.C., smoked crack cocaine with a girlfriend. The film was entered into evidence during Mr. Barry's federal trial on perjury and drug charges. It was aired -- often in its entirety -- countless times nationwide. Mr. Barry eventually was convicted of a misdemeanor and served six months in prison.

I'm sure you remember the film: Mr. Barry's half-hearted sexual pursuit of model Rasheeda Moore. The way he took two long puffs from a pipe containing crack cocaine and then staggered to the door. The sudden, forcible entry of federal agents. Miss Moore's screams as agents shoved the mayor face-first against a wall and handcuffed him. And then his forlorn complaint: "I'll be goddamned. The bitch set me up," repeated again and again in a dull, sullen, defeated voice.

The film showed a ponderous and tired man -- far different from the arrogant, high-flying womanizer we had been led to expect. It showed a man desperately in need of help; pathetic and sad; a man certainly not fit to be anybody's mayor.

A very different seeming Marion Barry spoke at Bethel A.M.E. Church Sunday.

Sunday, the Democratic nominee for D.C. mayor described himself as "redeemed, restored and resurrected." He described himself as a man who "has had dark nights" but who also has known "the joy of repentance."

"I know what the Lord has meant to my life," said Mr. Barry. "And I know this is a good day because God has made it with new beginnings; with new thoughts, new hopes and brand new possibilities."

Now, it may be that Marion Barry's "redemption and resurrection" is nothing but a con job. He would not be the first politician to embrace the Bible in a calculated attempt to win votes.

But I know that Marion Barry was so thoroughly taken down and humiliated by the repeated airing of that videotape that his comeback is an act of great personal courage. And, I know too, that people can indeed find that courage -- be redeemed, restored and resurrected -- through new-found faith.

Said Bethel's pastor, the Rev. Frank Madison Reid 3rd: "When I look at the Scripture, every great person in the Bible was a person who had made a major mistake in their life. And God took them after they made that major mistake and raised them even higher.

"Marion Barry," continued the pastor, "is a living witness of the work that God can do. And if God can do it for Marion Barry, He can do it for your son, your father or your daughter. He can do it for you."

At Bethel Sunday, I was reminded that ours is a community in great pain -- a pain so profound that future generations will marvel at our endurance. Early in the service, Mr. Reid asked people who had lost a loved one to violence to stand -- and nearly three dozen people rose wearily to their feet. Later, he invited anyone wishing to ask God for specific prayers to approach the altar, and quickly, a long line of people filed down the aisle.

Marion Barry spoke of this. He spoke of the terrors of crime and the ravages of drugs; he spoke of teen pregnancy and the horrible uncertainty that comes with joblessness. "The middle class has pain as well," he said. "They know what it means to have a beautiful house but a broken home. . . . They know that even if you have a Ph.D., you are still a nigger in America."

I do not know if I would have voted for Mr. Barry in the Democratic primary if I lived in Washington. In my opinion, he wasn't that great a mayor during his first go-round. But I do believe in redemption. I do believe in the power of faith. And I have to believe that things can change -- for Marion Barry, for all of us.

"It is midnight in our community," Mr. Barry said. "But the darkest hour is just before dawn. Weeping endures for a night, but there is joy in the morning."

With all my heart, I believe this to be true.

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