Every morning on her way to her full-time job at the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse, Barnett passes by her old stomping grounds, Clarke Central High School, reminiscing on the days when she roamed the halls. Back then it was simply known as Athens High School and integration was just beginning.
In her lifetime, the 63-year-old Athens native has witnessed many changes to the community that go far beyond the renaming of her old high school. Barnett was one of the first African-Americans to attend Athens High and takes great pride in knowing she helped pave the way for future generations.
Barnett’s role in breaking down racial barriers was only the beginning of her involvement in the community. Monday morning through Friday afternoon she works full time as a victim advocate in the District Attorney’s Office, where she serves as a liaison between victims and the court. Friday evening through Monday morning Barnett can be found at her part-time job as a women’s shelter monitor for the Salvation Army.
In her spare time, Barnett has volunteered for Project Safe, battered women’s shelters, the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, and Service for America.
“That’s where my gift comes from,” Barnett explains. “Helping people in crisis. That’s the gift I was blessed with and that’s what I enjoy doing.”
Barnett enjoys utilizing her talent for others and also recognizes the talents of others a in her life.
For 19 years Barnett served as program director of Rites of Passage, an organization founded by her and Holley that targets at-risk black teens in the Athens area and guides them through life’s milestones while educating them on their black heritage.
Towanna Nash, a Rites of Passage alumni and proud mother of two said, “I owe all I am to this program. I could have been a statistic, but Rites of Passage saved me.”
At any given time, Rites of Passage has 12 to 20 participants who undergo an extensive mentorship program. The students are subject to unannounced school visits to monitor their academic progress as well as having to complete extra lessons in teen pregnancy prevention, drug prevention and school dropout prevention. The students also are encouraged to explore the arts through dance, stepping, and African drumming.
Barnett helped organize educational field trips where the teens of Rights of Passage traveled to historic African-American sites such as the 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. Barnett sees her work as following the work of her mother, a prominent civil rights activist in Athens. Barnett is passionate about the guiding principle of Rites of Passage. She firmly believes that children cannot know where they are going if they do not know where they have been.
Barnett’s daughter, Sakina Barnett went through the program as well as her two children. “Through Rites of Passage my children not only learned about their heritage, but they’ve also learned about conflict resolution, teamwork, and preparing for adulthood,” Sakina Barnett said. Sakina Barnett remains involved with Rites of Passage as a volunteer, mentor, and big sister.
Barbara Barnett recently stepped down from her position of program director but still continues to offer a helping hand to those in need.
Her plate may seem full, but for Barnett it is both work and leisure. Meeting unique people with different talents and gifts is Barnett’s greatest pleasure.
Even at an early age Barnett understood that every missed bus, every shove and crumpled piece of paper served a deeper purpose. She now dedicates her life to helping others find theirs.