I’m thrilled about the fact that Colin Powell was the son of immigrants. That he was born in the South Bronx. That his father worked managing the transportation of clothing in Manhattan’s Garment District and that his mother worked as a tailor. They were originally from Jamaica.
As a student, he was mediocre. He was a C-student – according to his own revelation – at City College, where he studied Geology. It was there that he discovered the Army. He found what was right for him. What inspired him. What he was passionate about. His evolution from there on was rapid. He became the first African-American National Security Adviser. The first African-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The first African-American Secretary of State.
For a time, he was the most popular man in America and was considering running for president.
It was a classic case of achieving the American dream in its most noble form. From nowhere, he climbed to the highest rungs of the country’s leadership. It is not just that he achieved the American dream; his story differs from so many others in that he ‘paved the way’ for others. He tore down walls. He contributed to the creation of a more equal, just world.
And just as important: throughout his career, until his last moments on earth, he never forgot his parents. His origins. Who he was. His feet were firmly planted on the ground. He did not need crutches.
When President George W. Bush struggled to persuade the world that we needed to wage war on Iraq, he enlisted his esteemed Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to go to the United Nations to persuade everyone.
In his speech there, he said the following:
“My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.”
When asked if Iraq had resumed a nuclear program, he replied: “There is no doubt in my mind.”
When he spoke at the UN, he was accompanied by two Greek-Americans: John Negroponte, the then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and George Tenet, then CIA Director.
It was a historical photograph. For him, however, the speech was a disaster. It turned out that it was based on false data.
This was the nightmare that followed him until the end of his life.
Powell wronged himself with what he did. It would have been better if he had just resigned. He had put his career above his values and paid the price for it.
Of course, this incident does not wipe out the successes of a lifetime.
Nor does it invalidate the fact that Colin Powell, the son of immigrants, was a great American, a great man, a faithful son, and an example to be imitated by all the children of immigrants.