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Describes how a young boy from the Bronx grew up to become the first African-American ever appointed as Secretary of State.
On February 2, 2001, a high school senior stood in the State Department of the United States and introduced Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
He began by saying, "Hello, my name is Johnny Stone. I go to Ballou Senior High School. I'm a senior and my school is in D.C. I am Secretary Powell's e-mentee. We exchange e-mails on a regular basis, addressing my schoolwork and life in general. It has been a pleasure this past year to be able to get to know Secretary Powell through e-mail exchanges-he's a nice guy. And cool too. Now I would like to introduce my friend, my mentor, the secretary of state, Colin Powell."
Secretary Powell looked around the room. The students before him were attending Groundhog Job Shadow Day, learning about the jobs of the adults in the State Department. It was an exciting day for them-a day made even more special by the opportunity to meet the first African-American secretary of state.
Secretary Powell thanked Johnny for introducing him and explained to the audience that the two of them had been getting to know each other by e-mail for the past six months. They had become good friends even though this was the first time they'd beenable to meet face to face. "Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long relationship."
After welcoming everyone, Secretary Powell told the group that every year he looks forward to Groundhog Job Shadow Day. He deeply believes in this program, which allows young people from communities all across America to come into the workplace and see what adults-including "old" people like himself-do for a living and how they perform their jobs each day.
He went on to say, "You need to see what successful people are doing so that you can put yourself on that path to success.... At the end of the day, each and every one of you has to make a choice. Look in a mirror. Look at yourself. Look deep in your own heart and make a choice-a choice that says, 'I'm going to be a success. I don't care what obstacles are thrown in my way. I don't care what people say about me.... I'm going to be a success. I'm going to be a success because I can be a success.'"
Secretary of State Powell reminded the young people that God has given them strong bodies, healthy minds, and the ability to make good choices for their lives, if they are willing to use the tools God and their parents have given them. He told them, "Character is all about making those correct choices in life."
A few weeks later, Secretary of State Powell spotted a group of young people standing near the front door as he escorted the Dutch foreign minister out of the State Department after a formal lunch meeting.
"Hi! How are you, kids?" Colin Powell greeted them. Their nametags indicated they had come from all over the United States to visit the nation's capitol for the week as part of a youth program sponsored by the Senate. Secretary of State Powell introduced the children to the Dutch foreign minister, who seemed surprised to suddenly be surrounded by a group of boys and girls.
The group was lined up waiting to come through security, so Secretary Powell asked, "Where are you going?" The kids told him they had come to hear a speech about the State Department but didn't know who was to give the speech.
Smiling, Secretary Powell surprised the youngsters by saying, "Forget the speech. I have a better idea." Then he led the group upstairs to show them where he and other State Department officials meet and entertain foreign dignitaries at luncheons, receptions, and dinners. He escorted them through special diplomatic rooms furnished with beautiful antiques. In one room, he pointed out Thomas Jefferson's desk, on which, it is believed, Jefferson signed the Treaty of Paris, establishing American independence from Great Britain. Before the tour ended, forty kids and one slightly bewildered Dutch foreign minister received an unforgettable personal lesson in American history.
Why would a member of the president's cabinet take time to talk to a group of students and show them around the State Department? Why would a man who regularly meets with the world's top leaders take time to exchange regular e-mails with a high school kid?
Colin Powell does such things because he genuinely loves his country and its history. And he believes that if America is going to continue to be a great and influential nation, its people and especially its young people, need to understand their country's government and how it works. But there is another reason-although Colin Powell is now widely known and respected and has become one of the most influential leaders in the world, he has never forgotten who he is or how he came to be where he is today.
Excerpted from Today's Heroes: Colin Powell by Gregg Lewis Deborah Shaw Lewis Copyright © 2002 by Gregg and Deborah Shaw Lewis. Excerpted by permission.
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