Caribbean pols pay tribute to Gen. Colin Powell

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In this Oct. 10, 2008 file photo, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is seen in Washington. Powell died on Monday at age 84.
Associated Press/Susan Walsh, File

Caribbean American legislators in New York on Monday paid tribute to Caribbean American four-star General Colin L. Powell, who died on Monday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, MD, from complications of COVID-19, his family said. He was 84.

“On behalf of the people of the 9th District of New York, the Clarke Family and myself, I extend my deepest condolences to the Powell Family and his loved ones and friends,” Caribbean American Democratic Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, whose 9th District in Brooklyn, encompasses an overwhelming number of Caribbean nationals, told Caribbean Life.

The congresswoman noted that General Powell, also the son of Jamaican immigrants, was “a trailblazer in the US military establishment.

“He rose through the ranks to become a four-star general and the Joint Chief of Staff in the Bush administration, and he would go on to be appointed the first Black US Secretary of State,” said Clarke, chair of the US Congressional Black Caucus Taskforce on Immigration, a senior member of the US House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, and a senior member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “He was a hero to many.

“Like me, he was born and raised in New York to Jamaican immigrant parents and was a proud Jamaican American,” she added. “Though my tenure in Congress began after Gen. Powell’s retirement, I was honored to have been sent alongside him by President (Barack) Obama to represent the United States to Jamaica for the celebration of their 50th Independence Anniversary.

“While we both represent two different political parties — and I’ve questioned his role with regard to the Iraq War, as also he ultimately did — he was a principled statesman who loved his country,” Clarke continued. “We are all beneficiaries of his decades of service, and his life and legacy are a testament to the greatness of this man.”

Powell, also a former US national security adviser, delivered a speech before the United Nations General Assembly in 2003 that pundits say helped pave the way for America to go to war in Iraq.

Powell’s family said that his immune system was compromised by multiple myeloma, a rare cancer that forms in the blood.

According to the Mayo Clinic, multiple myeloma forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell.

“Healthy plasma cells help you fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs,” said the nonprofit hospital system that has campuses in Rochester, Minnesota; Scottsdale and Phoenix in Arizona; and Jacksonville, Florida.

In multiple myeloma, cancerous plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow and “crowd out healthy blood cells,” the Mayo Clinic said.

“Rather than produce helpful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause complications,” it said.

Gen. Powell’s family said he was vaccinated for COVID-19 and was being treated for multiple myeloma at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

He was also treated for the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, his family said.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement, the Mayo Clinic said.

“General Powell’s distinguished life was one that immigrants, children of immigrants and all Americans could look to and emulate,” Veteran New York State Assemblyman Jamaican-born N. Nick Perry told Caribbean Life on Monday.

“His trailblazing efforts, include being the first Black US Secretary of State, changed the course of history for this nation,” added Perry, who represents the 58th Assembly District in Brooklyn, also a US Army veteran. “General Powell’s accomplishments were celebrated not only by African-Americans but lauded and greatly appreciated by the Caribbean-American community, especially Jamaican-Americans, who took great pride in also claiming him as a son of Jamaica.

“On behalf of the people of the 58th Assembly District, I thank this great Caribbean-American son of New York City for his lifetime of service to America and the world, and pray that he rests in peace in a very special place in Heaven,” Perry continued.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, said Powell’s passing of complications from COVID-19, after a long battle with cancer, is “a sobering reminder of the state of this pandemic and the strength of this virus.

“Colin Powell, a first-generation native New Yorker and CUNY (City University of New York) graduate of Caribbean heritage, is a prominent figure, with a complicated legacy,” said Williams, who has established an exploratory committee for a run for governor of New York next year.

“He had a record many throughout the political spectrum – including myself – would find fault in, particularly his role in supporting very harmful foreign policy,” he said. “At the same time, he was a role model for many across that same spectrum, and the importance of seeing a Black man at the highest levels of our government in that time cannot be understated.

“He was committed to his country, community and public service – before, during and after his time in government,” Williams added. “The symbol and story of Colin Powell, the impact of his career, are all a part of the legacy we remember and the person we memorialize today.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Democratic Party nominee for Mayor of New York, said Gen. Powell was “a true trailblazer.”

“In his four decades of distinguished public service, he consistently broke barriers — as the nation’s first Black national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state,” Adams said.

“Born to Jamaican immigrants in the South Bronx, his life is a testament to the enduring power of the American dream,” added Adams, a retired New York Police Department (NYPD) captain.

“As a Black man who has spent my career fighting for a more just and equitable society, I am in awe of Mr. Powell’s considerable accomplishments and his ability to overcome the bigotry he faced in order to reach the highest levels of the military, and, later, our federal government,” he continued.

Colin Luther Powell was born on April 5, 1937 to Jamaican immigrants, Luther Powell, a shipping-room foreman in Manhattan’s garment district, and Maud Ariel McKoy, a seamstress. General Powell was reared in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx.

In a White House Proclamation on Monday, President Joe Biden described Powell as “a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity.

“The son of immigrants, born in New York City, raised in Harlem and the South Bronx, a graduate of the City College of New York (CUNY), he rose to the highest ranks of the United States military and to advise four presidents,” Biden said. “He believed in the promise of America, because he lived it. And he devoted much of his life to making that promise a reality for so many others.

“He embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat,” he added. “He led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong.”

The US president said Gen. Powell “repeatedly broke racial barriers, blazing a trail for others to follow, and was committed throughout his life to investing in the next generation of leadership.

“Colin Powell was a good man who I was proud to call my friend, and he will be remembered in history as one of our great Americans,” he said, declaring, “as a mark of respect for Gen. Powell and his life of service to our nation” that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff at the White House and “upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset on Oct. 22, 2021.”

Biden also directed that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also described Gen. Powell as “an extraordinary leader and a great man,” who was beloved at the State Department and at US embassies and consulates around the world.

“He gave the State Department the very best of his leadership, his experience, his patriotism,” said Blinken in a statement. “He gave us his decency, and the State Department loved him for it.

“Secretary Powell trusted the career workforce here; he empowered them,” he added. “He made sure that the desk officer who knew a particular country or issue most deeply was the one who got to brief him or the president.

“And he wasn’t overly concerned with hierarchy either,” Blinken continued. “Secretary Powell was simply and completely a leader, and he knew how to build a strong and united team. He treated people the way he expected them to treat each other, and he made sure that they knew he would always have their back.”

The US Secretary of State said Gen. Powell dedicated his “extraordinary life” to public service “because he never stopped believing in America.

“And we believe in America in no small part, because it helped produce someone like Colin Powell,” Blinken said. “Thank you, Mr. Secretary.”

Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, of California, said: “Today, a grateful nation observes the end of a distinguished career and celebrates 35 years of service and victory: a victory for the United States military that gave young Colin Powell a chance to learn and to grow and to lead; a victory for the military and political leaders who continue to elevate him based on their complete confidence and sheer respect; a victory for a nation well served; and, in a larger sense, a victory for the American dream, for the principle that in our nation, people can rise as far as their talent, their capacities, their dreams, and their discipline will carry them.”

Pelosi said Powell’s years as a soldier “are what made him such an exceptional diplomat.

“He knew that war and military action should always be a last resort; and, to make that so, we need our diplomacy to be as robust and well-resourced as possible,” she said. “And he believed deeply that America was an exceptional nation, that we could and should lead with confidence and humility, and that the world was safer when the United States was engaged and its allies and partners were united.”

The Speaker said future military leaders and diplomats will study Powell’s work, like the Powell Doctrine that “hammered out criteria for when and how the United States should use force, and his support for expeditionary diplomacy, diplomats and military working together to bring stability to high-threat environments.

“He was a man of ideas, but he wasn’t ideological,” Pelosi said. “He was constantly listening, learning adapting. He could admit mistakes. It was just another example of his integrity.”