Powell challenges youth
ASPEN In a discussion Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and with young Americans via the Internet, Colin Powell’s message to young people was clear: Give back to your community.Powell, a former U.S. secretary of state, spoke with an Aspen audience of 100 and with young professionals and members of Generation Engage, a nonprofit encouraging 18- to 29-year-olds to become active in their communities.”I think it’s so important for all young people to know what’s going on in their community,” Powell said. “An informed public is what makes this country work.”And Powell’s message Friday was a challenge to young people.”You are the leaders in your community,” Powell said. “If you are unhappy, do something about it. … ‘Engage’ means ‘engage,’ not just talking about things.”Powell and his wife, Alma, founded America’s Promise Alliance, an initiative with a similar mission to Generation Engage, he said: to help young people find the resources to succeed.Powell told the Aspen listeners, as well as audiences online in New York, Miami and Charlotte, N.C., to stop asking government to lead the way, but for everyone to lead the way by making changes.Powell’s challenge: Look yourself in the mirror and ask, “What are you doing?”Powell on the issuesPowell fielded questions via satellite on everything from the war in Iraq to civil rights. He spoke up for the importance of primary and secondary education, saying there is a direct correlation between third-grade reading levels and a person’s odds of going to prison.On race issues, Powell said “the problem still exists” and that he regrets the recent Supreme Court decision concerning school integration. Powell said the needs of minority children in 100-percent minority were not being satisfied, and he advocated for better-rounded education that didn’t merely “teach to the test” but includes public service, music, art and sports.He encouraged young people to mentor kids, to reach out and tell them about the dangers of drugs.Powell cited the case of a student who arrived in the U.S. from Ecuador knowing only one word of English.”He grabbed every opportunity that came along by saying ‘OK,'” Powell said, adding that the 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. need a chance to emerge from illegal status and contribute as they already do from the shadows. And he stressed the importance of mastering English.Powell was outspoken about the situation with the war on terror. In response to a question about post-traumatic stress among soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, “We need to give our veterans all the help we can. They deserve everything that America can give them for the sacrifice they made.”Powell advocated for bringing detainees into the U.S. prison system: “I believe Guantanamo should be closed,” he said.Be your own role model”You don’t need a big star to latch onto as a role model,” Powell said. “Look at yourself constantly. Be your own role model.”And Powell stressed that role models come in many forms, from the single mother who rides the bus to work each day to provide for her family, to others in the community, regardless of whether they’re doing what you admire.”Learn from the negative experiences in life,” Powell said, adding that bad role models and difficult situations are as important as good. And the most important quality for success: “Be someone who can be counted on. Be dependable,” he said, citing his own experience in the military.Powell likened a person’s reputation to the slow building of ocean coral, something that happens bit by bit over time but can be destroyed quickly.”Ready or not, this county’s going to be yours, and ready or not, you have to step into leadership positions,” Powell said. And making a difference starts with small things, such as pitching in to clean up a vacant lot or helping at an area senior center, Powell said.”Stop asking the government to do everything,” Powell said.And at the end of the day, or the end of a lifetime, Powell said there is just one question to ask of oneself: “Do you feel that you have done your very best?”Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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