July 04, 2011
In the final hour before he was scheduled to address the World Youth Peace Conference, retired four-star general Colin Powell met with thirteen young people in a small room usually reserved for media interviews with athletes after University of Hartford sporting events. The students had been selected to present peace project proposals to General Powell. It was announced before the start of their meeting that each person would be given no more than two minutes to present their ideas.
The students stood and applauded when Powell entered. He took his seat at the front of the room, behind a table draped with a red cloth. General Powell, nicknamed "the reluctant warrior," listened, conversed and critiqued the proposals with an attentive and personal ear.
Jacinta Lomba (above, center), 15, of South Windsor, CT, inspired by her parents from Cape Verde, Africa, spoke of her plan to build libraries in Cape Verde. "Growing up," Lomba told Powell, "My parents shared stories with me about how they never had the opportunity to read books for fun. And I think that is something that we take for granted here in America. We can go to the library, check out books and let our imaginations run wild. So my pathways to peace project will require me to travel to my home country and install libraries for the children there. And the libraries will be filled with books, fictional novels and children's stories, printed in Portuguese."
"Fictional stories," she continued, "shape our imagination and our beliefs for the future. This is a great way for me to promote peace amongst my own people and perhaps to change the world someday.
To Lomba's surprise, Powell said he had been to Cape Verde. He further noted that earlier in the day he had been speaking in northwestern Connecticut with a group supporting the Kent Memorial Library. "It was built about 80-years ago," Powell said about the library, "to honor veterans of the first world war. The point I made to them is that I was raised in a poor neighborhood in the South Bronx. And I had a library in my community called the Hunt's Point Library. My parents were immigrants and you didn't spend money on books, you had a library. The Hunt's Point Library introduced me to the books of James Michener and these wonderful books about the South Pacific. Willa Cather and her wonderful My Antonia took me from the South Bronx to the plains of Nebraska. And so libraries open a new world for people who are shielded from the real world because they don't have the opportunity to read."
Three television lights kept the small room warm as more ideas were presented by young people from Russia, China, Iraq, Luxembourg, Maine, Florida, and Massachusetts.
Powell left the meeting and, after stopping in the cramped hallway outside the media room to pose for photographs with the participants, went out to speak with the crowd. He spoke of his combat service in Vietnam and not seeing his son until he was 8-months old because, as he put it, "I was in the jungle." The 74-year-old former Secretary of State also spoke of working with Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, the Military-Industrial complex, leadership, success and driving his Corvette.
At the close of his talk General Powell said,
"As long as my country, and every country represented here in this room this evening, understands that
--We are all of a creator.
--We all have inalienable rights.
--We all have the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.
--We are all joined in this together and increasingly so because of the power of the information revolution.
--We are all each other's brothers and sisters no matter what country we are from, what religion we profess, what ethnicity we have.
--We are all in it together in this great world of ours. A great world that I am so very proud to have lived in during my 70-odd years.
You, although you are not my children, tonight you are my children, and I want to make sure I am giving this message to you: Go forth and save this world of ours."