Farewell from DESAP Board of Directors President Charles Barber, Esq.
Click here for full letter.
December 14, 2020
Dear Ellington Community,
At the end of this month, I will be stepping down from the Board of Directors of Duke Ellington.
I have served on the board since 2004, and have had the honor of holding the position as
president since 2007. While this has been a labor of love, it is time for me to step aside and
allow others to serve.
During my time on the board, I have had the privilege of working with strong Ellington
leadership, starting with co-founder and “force of nature” Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and
continuing with a variety of Heads of School. This has included Mitzi Yates, Rory Pullens,
Father John Payne, Desepe DeVargas, Tia Harris, and currently Sandi Logan. While each
had different skills and strengths, they all shared a love of the school and a desire to see it
excel. I have long realized, however, that the key to Ellington’s success is the hard work and
commitment of its faculty. These individuals take the raw talent of incoming Ellington students
and help to shape and mold them into artists/scholars/citizens and – importantly – graduating
During my service, there have been challenges along the way. In the early days prior to
renovation of the school, we struggled to find contractors and others who would donate their
services and funds to do the patchwork carpeting and painting the old facility desperately
needed. During the years of renovation, the school struggled mightily – and successfully – to
keep its program at a high level while operating from two neighborhood schools separated by
several blocks in the Shaw area that, to put it mildly, were ill suited to Ellington’s needs. Most
recently, there was the travesty of the unfounded charges of the Office of the State
Superintendent of Education regarding out of state admissions that was only overcome by a
concerted effort of parents, Ellington officials and supporters.
Of course, there were great successes. I recall the thrill of assisting in the design of a school
of the highest quality, and seeing it built and being put to great use. There were wonderful
fundraisers supported by renowned performers, many of whom worked right alongside of our
own talented students. There were contributions made by Dave Chappelle and many other
talented alumni who keep giving back to Ellington. And above all else, there was the pride of
witnessing students matriculate through a demanding schedule, graduate and go on to higher
achievement. This includes my own nephew, Jonathan McCrory, who was a Duke Ellington
student when I first joined the board and who is now the Artistic Director of the National Black
Theater in New York City.
My biggest disappointment, of course, has been the inability to secure appropriate funding
from DCPS for Ellington’s hardworking faculty and staff. In 2017 – 2018, Peggy, Ellington
Fund President Ari Fitzgerald and I spent many, many hours negotiating, prodding, and
cajoling DCPS and other District officials to secure a commitment to a new funding model for
the school. We came close to an agreement, only to have it derailed at the last minute by the
OSSE fiasco. The good news, however, is that there are bright and capable members of the
DESAP board, parents and school staff who are focused on strategically planning to secure
just compensation for Ellington. In the meantime, Sandi Logan and her team continue to bring
a strong sense of professionalism and energy to the leadership of the school that will keep
Ellington on an upward path.
While I am leaving the board, the institution that employs me – George Washington University
– remains committed to its partnership with Duke Ellington. The President and the Provost of
the university, both of whom visited the school last spring, have appointed a new GW
representative to the DESAP board: Aristide Collins, the President’s Chief of Staff and
Secretary to the university. Aristide joins long serving GW representative Gregory Squires
and, when the position of Director of the GW Corcoran School of Arts & Design is filled, the
plan is for that person to become GW’s third representative to the board.
What do I take with me when I leave? I take wonderful memories, memories that have not
been dimmed by a pandemic which, while it may leave a lasting impact on education, is a
challenge that I am confident that we – collectively – will overcome. These memories include
the enchantment of seeing museum quality displays of art throughout the school. The delight
of hearing musicians, individual voices and instruments as well as large ensembles, filling the
school’s performance spaces. The absolute joy of seeing talented dancers displaying both
exuberance and discipline. And finally, the unforgettable feeling when an Ellington show
begins, sitting in expectation when the theater lights dim, knowing you are about to
experience something truly special.
Thank you, Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
Charles Barber, Esq.