DETROIT – As an American leader, Colin Powell’s credentials were impeccable: he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State. But her legacy as a first black person in those roles is murkier, with some African Americans saying her voice on their behalf could have been louder.

Powell, who died of complications from COVID-19 on Monday, spent 35 years in the military and rose to political prominence under Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. His stature fueled persistent speculation that he would one day run for president as a member of the GOP.

Through it all, Powell never seemed quite comfortable talking about race, said Kevin Powell, a New York-based writer and human rights activist who is unrelated to Colin. Powell.

“I think that’s why a lot of black people never saw him as a leader. It never felt like Colin Powell was one of us, ”said Kevin Powell, who met him in the 1990s, when he was often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate.

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Colin Powell later became disenchanted with the GOP and supported the Democrats for president, starting with Barack Obama. Powell also called then-President Donald Trump a national disgrace and said he no longer considered himself a Republican after the storming of Capitol Hill on Jan.6.

“At the end of the Bush years, in 2009, he was largely invisible in a lot of the things that happened – Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, George Floyd,” said Kevin Powell, who is also black. “It was clear that the party he was part of moving right. I don’t remember him ever saying that this party was nothing more than race merchants.

But Powell’s dignity and poise shouldn’t be taken as an indication that he hasn’t understood his people’s struggle, according to Sam Riddle, a Detroit-based military veteran and political activist.

“He personified a quiet inner strength that we knew he had on the battlefield for America and for black Americans,” said Riddle, who also hosts a radio show in Detroit. “The megaphones we can use can just be a silent skill, integrity and persistence. “

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Powell expressed concern about the incarceration rate in the United States, which has historically been the highest in the world. He promoted policies designed to keep young adults, especially black Americans, out of the criminal justice system.

Years before George Floyd’s murder in 2020, calls from the Black Lives Matter movement to ‘fund the police’ were renewed, Powell said he was not in favor of cutting law enforcement budgets to fight against police brutality. He suspected that many black Americans agreed.

A June 2020 poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the height of police protests this summer showed that 43% of black Americans strongly or somewhat supported cutting police funding, while 30% opposed the idea.

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“You can’t say, ‘We should divest from criminal justice, police and courts,’” Powell said in 2017. “They’re not just there to protect whites. They are also here to protect blacks.

He continued, “If you tell a black community leader that the police won’t be there, he can say, ‘Whoa! Wait a minute!’ What they want is fair and balanced legal treatment for all Americans.

A child of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in New York’s Bronx, Powell said he was raised in a community where his neighbors were as invested in his safety and success as his own mother and father.

“I had adults who cared about me,” Powell said in a 2017 interview with Mic. “Both of my parents, all of my Jamaican parents in the South Bronx, they looked after us kids. And if you ever did something wrong, I mean, you would.

Powell graduated in 1958 from City College of New York, which then established the Colin Powell Center to develop student leadership and community engagement on campus. The program was eventually renamed the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.

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In the aftermath of Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests, the school started a Racial Justice Fellows Program as a joint initiative between Colin Powell School and the CCNY Black Studies Program.

Powell once said he wanted the next generation to have opportunities like he did, according to Andrew Rich, Dean of Colin Powell School.

Being a black American “defined his experience,” said Rich. “He was a pioneer in every way. I think he was very aware of the barriers he broke. One of the things he was so proud of was that he knocked open doors and didn’t close them behind him.

Former President Barack Obama said on Monday that Powell had helped “a generation of young people to aim higher” and “has never denied the role race has played in its own life and in our society in general.”

“But he also refused to accept that running would limit his dreams and, through his consistent, principled leadership, helped pave the way for so many to follow,” Obama said.

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Many blacks look to high-performing African Americans to act on their behalf, said Frederick Gooding, associate professor of humanities at Texas Christian University.

“Maybe they disproportionately expect a Colin Powell to do more or more than he needs to be. Maybe this is one of those deals where he doesn’t. may not have spoken for all black people, but at the same time, it’s okay that he doesn’t, ”Gooding said.

Powell’s career and long career in public service show his excellence, added Gooding.

“When it comes to African Americans, often, when you’ve been touched by the struggle so to speak, when you have a position of power and privilege, do you take advantage of it? Said Gooding. “He might not have been that frontline cheerleader, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t affected by the wrestling.”

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Morrison reported from New York. He and Williams are members of the AP Race and Ethnicity team. Follow Morrison on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison. Follow Williams on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/coreyapreporter.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.



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