At tomorrow night's Toledo branch NAACP Freedom Fund dinner, former Denver Broncos football player Odell Barry plans to describe his transformation from a youth growing up in a central Toledo housing project to one of the most well-known community figures and business leaders in Colorado.
The Port Lawrence Homes in Toledo, where Mr. Barry grew up, and the snow-capped Rocky Mountains of suburban Denver, where he now lives, are worlds apart, but the former Scott High School and University of Findlay sprinting champ and football player said neither is far from his mind on any given day.
Mr. Barry will be the keynote speaker at the annual gathering, which this year will be at 6 p.m. tomorrow at The Pinnacle, 1772 Indian Wood Circle, Maumee.
“I had seen killings, fights, and a lot of church growing up,” Mr. Barry said. “I saw a lot of bigotry. Rodney King was a normal thing back then. I'm in the suburbs now, and I feel privileged, but I never want to forget where I came from.”
Mr. Barry said his mother, Elsie, provided a strong influence, and mentors such as Gunckel Elementary School Principal Emory Leverette and Ray Young, his first football coach with the neighborhood Young Knights, provided encouragement and a positive influence.
Today, Mr. Barry is president of Barry & Associates, Inc., a real estate development and consulting company he has run for more than 30 years. He sits on the board of directors of the University of Northern Colorado Foundation and on the board of trustees of the University of Findlay.
Mr. Barry, who played for the Denver Broncos for two years, said it was his humble beginnings that forever shaped him.
“The projects really grounded me,” Mr. Barry said. “I really didn't have any dreams of being a professional football player because I thought I was too small. I had a counselor in high school who told me to forget about college. When I did get to Findlay, it was the farthest I'd ever been away from home.”
When Mr. Barry became mayor of North Glenn, Colo., a Denver suburb, in 1980, he was the first African-American to become mayor of a city in the state. He was the first black to represent Colorado's nearly all-white 4th Congressional District delegates to the 1972 and 1976 Democratic Party national conventions. He jokes about getting 100 percent of the black vote.
“Well, I voted for myself, and I think my wife voted for me,” Mr. Barry said with a laugh. “There was another family [in North Glenn] from Toledo, and I believe they voted for me too.”
Mr. Barry also has served on the Democratic Party's National Committee as an at-large member, is a member of the Colorado Economic Development Commission, and the Colorado Municipal League.
He said Scott High School was the first school he attended that had a significant number of white students, and that's where he learned about diversity and working with others.
Mr. Barry said his experience at Scott, from which he graduated in 1960, prepared him for when he attended what was Findlay College in 1960. He earned his bachelor's degree in sociology in 1965.