1991 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Share the credit, remain calm, be kind, have a vision, and never let your ego get so attached to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it."
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Colin Powell was born in New York City neighborhood of Harlem in 1937 and raised in South Bronx. His father was a shipping clerk and his mother was a seamstress. Powell's parents worked hard and stressed the importance of getting an education. He graduated from high school in 1954 and attended City College of New York. He seemed to find his calling in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, attaining the highest rank of cadet colonel. Upon graduating in 1958 with a degree in geology, Powell was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army.
After finishing Infantry Officer's Basic Training and Airborne and Ranger Schools, he was assigned to Germany, where he served as a platoon leader, executive officer and rifle company commander. Powell spent two tours in Vietnam, first in 1962 as an advisor to a Vietnamese infantry battalion and again in 1968, when he was an Infantry Battalion Executive Officer and Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, 23rd Infantry Division. During his second tour, Powell was awarded the Soldier's Medal for rescuing several fellow soldiers after a helicopter in which they were flying crashed and caught fire. Coming back to the states, he earned an MBA from George Washington University, and the following year he was selected as one of seven out of 1,500 applicants to be a White House Fellow. He worked for Caspar Weinberger, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Weinberger's deputy, Frank Carlucci.
In 1973, he assumed command of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry in Korea. After a year at the National War College in 1976, he assumed command of the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
In 1977, Powell returned to Washington to serve in the Immediate Office of the Secretary of Defense. In 1981, he became the Assistant Division Commander for Operations and Training, 4th Infantry Division. In 1983, he served as Senior Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense Weinberger. In 1986, he assumed command of a 72,000- person Army Corps in Frankfurt, Germany, but six months later was called back to Washington to become an assistant to Frank Carlucci, the President's National Security Advisor. When Carlucci became Secretary of Defense, President Reagan chose Powell as his National Security Advisor.
In April 1989, Powell moved to Atlanta as head of the U. S. Forces Command until President Bush called him back to Washington to become the twelfth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was the youngest and the first black to be named to that position.
In September of 1993, General Powell retired after serving 35 years in the Army. In 1995, he published his best-selling autobiography, My American Journey. In 1997 he founded the America’s Promise Alliance, now chaired by his wife, which is dedicated to forging a strong and effective partnership alliance committed to seeing that children have the fundamental resources they need to succeed.
In January of 2001, he was sworn in as the 65th U.S. Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. He served in that capacity until January of 2005.
General Powell is the Honorary Chair of the Colin L. Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at his alma mater, the City College of New York. The school was inaugurated May of 2013 and stands alongside CCNY’s other premiere named schools.
Powell has received numerous awards to include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal three times, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit twice, the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal three times, and the Purple Heart. He has also been awarded two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the President's Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal and the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal.
General Powell has served at all echelons of the military, including the most senior positions. He has served at the White House and the Department of State, yet this soldier-statesman has never lost his common touch and his love for the American GI."
Over the years, Powell has developed a number of rules to guide his life, such as "share the credit," "remain calm," "be kind," and "have a vision." He adds to that list of his rules: "And never let your ego get so attached to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it." General Powell’s latest book, It Worked for Me, published in 2012, expands on these rules and reveals the lessons that shaped his life and career.