But as he rose to become a top military and diplomatic leader who served under four United States presidents, Powell followed a few simple rules in life, such as, “know yourself, be yourself,” and, “get mad, then get over it.”“It Worked for Me,” Powell says in his newly published book by the same title, and last Saturday at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, one of America’s most revered public servants told poignant stories of how he rose from an average student in the inner city to become a decorated four-star general and a U.S. secretary of state—and the lessons he learned along the way.
“I was always just a kid from the Bronx and tried not let anything go to my head,” he said.
Powell, 81, was the keynote speaker at the April 28 Legacy Gala dinner and fundraising auction for Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village. About 600 people— and a star-heavy lineup with ties to Oaks that included Sugar Ray Leonard, Wayne Gretzky, Ray Parker Jr., Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Jim Brown—attended. Singer Paul Anka performed.“My family is new here at Oaks Christian but we’re very aware of their great reputation,” Anka said.
“It’s a school that’s built on engaging students and helping them to build an incredible life,” Oaks Head of School Rob Black told the gala audience.
Black discussed the school’s new IDEA Lab (Innovation, Design, Engineering and Aeronautics) coming this fall, and plans for construction of an on-campus residential dormitory to house out-of-town students.
‘Nobody would believe’
Longtime comedic actor and former Marine Lt. Col. Rob Riggle sat in an easy chair next to Powell and interviewed the 65th U.S. secretary of state on stage.
“It’s simply amazing what you’ve been able to accomplish,” Riggle began, as he prompted Powell to recount his youth and what led him on the path to success.
After graduating from the ROTC program at the City College of New York, Powell went on to serve for 35 years in the Army. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993 under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the first ROTC graduate and African American to earn the position.
He retired in 1993 as a fourstar general.
“Nobody would believe an immigrant kid, a black kid with a public school education could grow up and be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Powell said.
Strong family values in the face of tough obstacles helped shape his upbringing, he said.
“If any kid did anything wrong they would get disciplined immediately. You’ve heard about the speed of the internet, but there’s nothing like the speed of a stern parent in South Bronx, New York.”
With huge Air Force One hoisted above the audience in the library hangar, Powell recalled how he had spent “hundreds of hours” in the plane crisscrossing the globe with President Ronald Reagan.
“Nobody could do words like he could do words. It was magic. He really was the great communicator,” Powell said of his former boss.
Modern times are troubled times, Powell continued.
On the international stage there’s been a “return of people into power who aren’t sensitive to the needs of their people.”
In the rush to war in Iraq and the country’s subsequent defeat in 2003 came a concern by Powell— who was then secretary of state—for what would happen after Saddam Hussein were destroyed. Powell’s worry about an apocalyptic, post-Hussein Iraq gained widespread national attention.
“The media gave a name to ‘if you break it, you own it’: they called it the Pottery Barn Rule,” Powell said in his book.
‘We the people’
Powell turned his attention back to America and the new and often injurious 24-hour news cycle that has prevailed.
“The impact of cable TV has spread and has been used to give people a voice who don’t deserve it—and don’t understand the Constitution.
“We the people need to push back and say this is unacceptable. We have to return to being a factbased nation.”
Powell also said he is concerned by the country’s continued “lack of tolerance” in race relations.
“It’s a deeply troubling period he said.
Powell’s talk drew a standing ovation.
“I liked his point: don’t forget where you’re from and that your circumstances don’t define who you are,” said Bob Massell, a Moorpark resident and Oaks Christian parent who applauded the program.
“Very inspirational,” he said.