The Inspirational Legacy of Colin Powell

Jontaya Moore | Staff Writer

Colin Powell, U.S. military leader and the first Black Secretary of State, died Oct. 18 at age 84 due to complications from COVID, CNN reports.

According to CNN, Powell was fully vaccinated but suffered from other underlying conditions, including multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that can lead to a compromised immune system, according to CNN. He had also received his second booster shot but became increasingly ill before the scheduled vaccine. 

Powell was born on April 5, 1937, in Harlem, N.Y. His parents were Jamaican immigrants. When he was still young, he and his family moved to the South Bronx, according to NPR.

“Mine is the story of a black kid of no early promise from an immigrant family of limited means who was raised in the South Bronx,” Powell wrote in his 1995 autobiography My American Journey.

 According to CNN, after graduating high school, he attended the City College of New York. It was while in college that he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). While serving in ROTC, he led the precision drill team and attained the rank of Cadet Colonel, the highest rank offered by the Corps.

According to BBC, following his college education, Powell entered the U.S. Army in 1958. While serving in two Vietnam tours, he was injured several times. Despite these injuries, he was able to rescue three soldiers following a plane crash, BBC asserts.

According to CNN, Powell’s career progressed, and he rose through the ranks becoming the first Black National Security Advisor under President Ronald Reagan and was later promoted to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military point in the Department of Defense under President George H.W. Bush. This made Powell the youngest and first Black chairman in U.S. history, CNN reports.

“I can look at him and say that if all odds are against him and he was able to continue, I know that I can, too,” said Tatum Morris, Hampton University’s Miss Political Science.

During his 35-year military career, he received various awards, including the bronze star and two purple hearts, CNN reported. He continued to serve in the U.S. military until 1993, spending four years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the Bush administration, according to BBC. 

He rose to great popularity following the Gulf War, helping him shape late 20th century and early 21st century foreign policy, according to CNN. Becoming the first Black Secretary of State under President George W. Bush in 2001, Powell faced encouragement to mount an eventual presidential bid, according to CNN. 

However, he said no to running for office, citing that he “lacked a passion for electoral politics”, CNN reports. 

In 2008, he was able to use his political assets to endorse the Obama presidential campaign, according to NPR. NPR also reports that he endorsed Obama for a second term in 2012 against GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 

Although he endorsed Obama, Powell remained a part of the Republican Party but stated that the party had “moved to the right more than he would like to see it” in his 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama, according to NBC. He later decided to break from the GOP after the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol, CNN reported.

President Joe Biden described Powell as having “unmatched honor and dignity,” according to The Hill.

“Colin Powell was a good man. He will be remembered as one of the greatest Americans,” Biden said in a White House briefing.

For future Black politicians and leaders, especially, he will undoubtedly be remembered as an inspiration.

Powell is survived by his wife, Alma, and their three children, NBC reports.

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