General Colin Powell was the first African American Secretary of State and in chronological order he was the 65 Secretary of State.  He was the sixteenth United States National Security Advisor from 1987 to 1989.  Colin Powell was born on April 5, 1937, in Harlem, New York to parents who had immigrated from Jamaica.  His parents where Luther and Maud Powell and he was raised in the South Bronx and educated in the New York City public school system. Colin Powell has an older sister, Marilyn Berns and she was a fourth-grade English teacher in California with her husband and two grown daughters. Education was really stressed in the Powell home in the Bronx.  Their father, Luther Theophilus Powell, was a shipping clerk and their mother, Maud Ariel, was a seamstress. Both of them are mixed with African & Scottish ancestry; they are both from Jamaica and immigrates who were raised in South Bronx. Colin would enter the City College of New York at age 16.  He participated in ROTC at CCNY and received a commission as an Army second lieutenant upon graduation in June 1958. Colin Powell received a Bachelor of Arts in Science in Geology and he stated himself that he was average “C” student but, he excelled in ROTC.  Throughout his career as a professional soldier for 35 years – during which he rose to the rank of four-star general. He received the highest military position in the United States Department of Defense as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from October 1989 to September 1993. He was also Commander of the US Army Forces Command in 1989.

His early career in the Army provided structure that he really needed. He was a cadet and joined the Pershing Rifles- the ROTC fraternal organization and drill team began by General John Pershing. He served on a tour in Vietnam, as a South Vietnamese Army advisor from 1962- 1963. He would later return to Vietnam, and he was decorated with the Soldier’s Medal of bravery after he survived a helicopter crash and single-handedly rescued three others including a division commander from a burning wreckage. After he returned to the US from Vietnam in 1971- Powell earned a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University in Washington, DC. He later was chosen for a White House Fellowship under President Richard Nixon; afterward he attended the National War College in Washington, DC.  Colin Powell would marry Alma Powell after friends fixed him up on a blind date.  They married on August 25, 1962, and they were married for 60 years and they have three children. There is Michael Kevin Powell an American attorney and lobbyist who served as the 24th Chair of the Federal Communications Commission from 2001 to 2005.  Michael has also been president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Associations and he is married to Jane Knott. Then there is a daughter named Linda Powell and another daughter named Anne Powell Lyons who is producer, known for Soaps’ Most Unforgettable Love Storie (1998), Walt Disney World’s 25th  

Anniversary Party (1997) and Homecoming with Rick Reilly (2009). There are four grandchildren and lots of other relatives. Alma Powell was very independent, and she worked as an audiologist. Colin Powell really enjoyed spending time with his family and helping to raise his children.  Colin and Alma instilled in their children’s values of commitment and perseverance and character and never giving up no matter how hard things may get with a job or life decision.  You should work with something that you chose and learn how to deal with adversity in life. Colin Powell would later be awarded an Honorary Doctor of National Security Affairs from National Defense University (NDU) in 2004. He is also the Honorary Chair of the Colin L. Powell School of Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York.

Colin Powell has been inducted into the French Legion of Honor and honorary knighthood by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.  Colin Powell chaired the organization called America’s Promise.  This organization makes sure that children have everything they need to succeed, and he really enjoyed philanthropy and community service.  He would often speak of going to the City College of New York and engaging the students in debates on policy and global leadership. He wanted to stress that it is not where you start but, where you end up that makes all the difference. Powell has a very humble and a very religious man and he was an Episcopalian. In a quote from his memoir in 1995, My American Journey, “The higher the church, the closer to God; that was how I saw it.” He would spend Sundays after dinner on the phone with relatives and watching sports and getting ready for the week with his Chief of Staff. He would make peace with all the evil that he saw in the wars that he witnessed, and he would go on to say that “It is well with my soul.”  His civilian awards included the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2), the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Citizen Medal, and the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award.

During his military time, he oversaw 28 crises including the invasion of Panama in 1989 and Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq in 1990 – 1991. He would formulate the Powell Doctrine which limits American military action unless it satisfies criteria regarding American National security interests, overwhelming force, and widespread public support. He served as Secretary of State under Republican President George W. Bush, while in this capacity he gave a speech before the United Nations regarding the rationale for the Iraq War- but he later admitted that the speech contained substantial inaccuracies.  Unfortunately, he was forced to resign after Bush was reelected in 2004. Then, in 1995, Powell wrote his autobiography, My American Journey, where he talked about his life in America and his success in the United States Army.  Then, in retirement he wrote another book, ItWorked for Me, Lessons in Life and Leadership (2012). This book he talked about his travels throughout the world and his philosophy that he followed in life. He had a career as a public speaker addressing audiences across the country and abroad.  He died at age 84, on October 27, 2021, from complications of COVID-19 and Parkinson’s disease and multiple myeloma. Colin Powell was the African American who was a constant in the United States Army, and he would offer his advice on world affairs and the way the United States should proceed.  He was able to articulate his thoughts and put them on page and make sure the content was understood by those in his command.  He learned how to be empathic to what other soldiers or officers might be going through at the time.  He knew that behind the soldier there was a family depending on him/her to come home safely. Colin Powell would often put himself in his soldiers’ shoes. He knew that just like him there was a family depending on that officer or soldier to help raise the kids, pay the bills, and take care of other relatives.  They were interdependent upon each other, and he learned that very quickly. A group of soldiers was only as strong as its weakest link.  The soldiers had to keep the moral up when in combat if they wanted to make it out alive. They had to believe that they were going to make it out of this battle and home to their families.  ‘

Colin Powell inspired hundreds of African Americans to join the Armed Forces to serve their country and to try to rise through the ranks just as he had done. He would tell the young men and women that “you are only as good as your word and your word is your bond”. They needed discipline in their lives and the Armed Forces could provide that for them. Colin Powell told the audiences that what mattered the most was your integrity. In the Armed Forces you were a part of something much greater than yourself and it took everyone working together for a common objective. You could not give up because everyone else was depending on you and your skin color was just a covering and did not determine your true potential.  Everyone has greatness in them but, they have to find the way to bring that greatness out of them. You have to find your own way to shine and be strong. When a soldier bends down to help a wounded child then the soldier was portraying true greatness. Women and children should not be considered casualties of war. They are normally the ones who are hurting the most because of a destroyed home and no food or clean water.  Their lives have been disrupted forever because of a conflict that they did not cause.  They will have to learn how to survive with illness and not having their basis needs met.  They have to watch people that they love die in front of them and wonder what they did to deserve that. Some children may ask, “Will I be the next person who dies.”  How will my mom ever be able to care for me and my siblings?  Some soldiers could see the despair and pain in the children’s eyes, and they knew that they were the victims of a terrible situation that they did not cause but, are forced to endure.  An officer is commissioned because he can function in a war situation and still make sure that all the objectives are complete, and the area is secure. He knows that his soldiers are his family, and he fights to make sure they all survive though any conflict.

So, remember Colin Powell embodied the characteristics of a super-hero for many Americans and he has lived and been respected in some of the most dire circumstances and come through it all with grace and humility. Mr. Colin Powell you are a great soldier with the rank of four-star general and you will always be remembered as an African American icon.