The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) joins in the outpouring of tributes recognizing the life and contributions of General Colin L. Powell. In service to the nation both as military leader and statesman, he earned global respect for his leadership, his valor and courage, and his integrity.
Colin Powell is an American success story. Born in 1937 to immigrant Jamaican parents, he was raised and schooled in the South Bronx of New York. Following his graduation from the City College of New York, he joined the Army. It was the beginning of a 35-year military career in which he climbed to positions shaping the course of military history and American foreign policy.
As a soldier, he was among the first to be sent to South Vietnam by President John F. Kennedy. He served two tours of combat duty in Vietnam meriting the Purple Heart. Later, following stints of command throughout the world, he was sent to the Pentagon and, ultimately, became national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan. By 1989 he had risen through the ranks becoming the first African American 4-Star General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A decade later he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Cabinet post of U.S. Secretary of State.
Colin Powell achieved in a military hierarchy dominated by white males and graduates of elite military academies. He broke racial barriers by virtue of the strength of his intellect, his character and, in his own words – “by surpassing.” With the success of Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf in the early 90’s, he became a national public figure and one of the most popular generals since Dwight Eisenhower. Although courted as a prospective presidential candidate – he declined to pursue that course.
Colin Powell believed in America’s promise of equality. For young people he saw military service as a pathway to learning and growth. In 1997 he and his wife, Alma Powell, founded “America’s Promise” – a nonprofit alliance dedicated to improving the lives and futures of children and youth. NACHC was proud to join that alliance of community leaders, educators, other nonprofits, and business and corporate leaders, which celebrates the 25th Anniversary of “America’s Promise” next year.
NACHC President and CEO, Tom Van Coverden, recalls meeting with General Powell: “I was impressed by his formidable stature reflecting his military bearing. He had walked the walk. He knew the human cost of war – and he knew the human cost and tragedy of neglect, poverty and discrimination. He was eager to be joined in our efforts to strengthen communities with health care and to ensure all people a decent and meaningful life.” Van Coverden said: “History will remember Colin Powell. His legacy of dedicated public service, his love of country and commitment to our nation’s men and women in uniform will inspire young people for generations to come.”