Tribute to a great American – Gen. Colin Powell
When people talk about great Americans, pioneers with integrity, leaders who achieved great things who were strong enough to admit failure, take responsibility for failure and worked tirelessly to turn it around, Gen. Colin Powell comes to mind. Powell was a man of humility, a man of strength. He exuded confidence. Americans trusted Secretary of State Colin Powell, my friend.
Today, he would be considered a true throwback. We will all miss him. He made all Black Americans proud. He did not try to make “up” seem like “down,” take credit for more than what he had done, instead he gave credit to others and tried to inspire others, often when no one else knew about it.
When I got to know Gen. Colin Powell, he was embarking upon one of his greatest achievements. He was the architect of a plan to destroy the fourth largest infantry at the time, Iraq. In 1991, he and his boss, President George H.W. Bush, understood that we did not want to break the country, just defeat Saddam Hussein, and have Iraq be removed from Kuwait. Neither man wanted another Vietnam. Powell used overwhelming military force in Iraq. A brilliant strategy. In seven weeks, the conflict was over, and we had accomplished the mission. Others wanted to go further but Powell was able to convince the most important person in the room, the president, to stop.
Authorizing the use of force in Desert Storm was my first big vote after being sworn into Congress. I had been given my first choice in committee assignments – the House Armed Services Committee. They even gave me a top position on the Readiness Subcommittee as my Republican Party was in the minority. I was expected to get up to speed quickly.
There was no other member of Congress of color, Black or brown that supported the use of force in the Persian Gulf War. After its success, I was courted and commended by the Kuwait government for my vote and support.
Prior to the House floor vote, Gen. Powell and his team had several meetings with the House Armed Services committee members as it was most appropriate.
In my private conversations with the general, I learned that his parents, upon arriving in the United States from Jamaica as immigrants, lived in a town in my Connecticut congressional district, prior to the family moving to the South Bronx where he was born. That was enough for me to consider him a native Nutmegger.
Our friendship was immediate. My wife is also of Jamaican descent.
One of my most cherished memories was when the Congressional Black Caucus had him attend one of our weekly meetings. I boasted that these folks want to commend you now, but they were not with you when it counted. I said this partially in jest, but everyone got the message. Powell merely smiled.
Years later we would both author books. I am in his first book, “My American Journey,” and he is not only in my book, “Searching for the Promised Land,” but he wrote a blurb for the back cover to help with its sales. His book sold a heck of a lot more copies than mine did.
In our books, we both recollect the same story. I told Powell that he helped me get elected to Congress. He paused, and said, “Gary, I do not get involved in politics, how did that happen?” I said, “I told my voters that if I could get elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, as one of 435, as a Black man in a 92 percent white district – a first, what harm could I do? After all, we have a Black man as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also a first, and look at what he has been doing.” This always elicited both gasps and laughter.
Powell was not about race. People often made it about race, but he never did.
From the 1996 election when Powell decided not to run for president, the Democrats’ plan was launched. It was substantially based on race, in my opinion. The Democrats have not won the white vote in decades for president. Of late, they have won more than 90 percent of the Black with extremely high Black turnout on Election Day. When Democrats fail to get 90 percent of the Black vote they tend to lose.
We live in a divided, polarized America, but I can’t help but imagine what this country would look like had Colin Powell become president. I believe he could have brought us together. What a dynamic leader he would have been. Our loss.
Job well done, soldier.