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EDI’s Tribute to the Honorable Colin Powell (Ret. Army General)

Closeup headshot of Colin Powell wearing a suit and looking off to the side

On Monday, October 18, 2021, the world lost a great soldier, statesman, and leader when the Honorable Colin Powell, 84, died from complications related to Covid-19.1 As the first Black U.S. Secretary of State and only the second Black American to earn the rank of Four Star Army General,2 Sec. Powell was lauded from all sides of the political spectrum as a distinguished, trailblazing, and dedicated public servant. His principles and accomplishments highlight the very values that guide us in the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Values such as integrity, equality, responsible leadership, ethics, character, and commitment to progress are apparent in Sec. Powell’s work and accomplishments.

EDI celebrates the life of Sec. Colin Powell, and all his contributions to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) endeavors. To honor his memory and highlight his support for DEIA work, we are sharing a list of powerful quotes from Sec. Powell so that our readers can contemplate the important messages in his words.

Powerful Quotes From the Honorable Colin Powell

  1. “Diversity is about recognizing that every human is a gift to a community…Diversity is strength.”3
  2. “Built into each of us is a little calculator that can make judgments that will never appear on a piece of paper. And sometimes you know something's right, you can't prove it to anybody, or you know something's wrong. Little ethical circuit breakers you carry around I go with my instinct.”4
  3. “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.”5
  4. “Our struggle will not be over until every American is able to find his or her own place in our society, limited only by his or her own ability and his or her own dream.”6
  5. “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception; it is a prevailing attitude.”7
  6. “So in 1963 when I came home from Vietnam, having served my nation, having sworn an oath to the Constitution to serve my nation, I came home and was denied access to restaurants and refused service in hotels and motel…This isn’t ancient history to me, this is my lifetime, my generation. I choose not to forget that we have this history…Some say, ‘We don’t wallow around in old history.’ Why not? We wallow around in the beauty of the Constitution and the Declaration, that’s old history. So let’s wallow around in all of it, as did the black people for all those years.”8

Sec. Powell took pride in understanding the great sacrifice of those who came before him to be at the forefront of cultivating diversity throughout his career.9 The National Diversity Council recognized Sec. Powell for his “steadfast dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.”10 Others have honored his involvement in university initiatives and commended “his constant articulations to encompass diversity and equity within international affairs and education.”11 His Thirteen Rules of Leadership further emphasize his dedication to equity and inclusion with advice such as, “Share credit” and “Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.”12 Many government officials have addressed his various achievements and positive impacts throughout his career.13

This year, Dr. Francis Collins and Sec. Colin Powell attended the Concert of Remembrance at the Kennedy Center as special guest speakers. Both honored front-line workers and first responders who risked their lives during 9/11 and who continue to risk their lives in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.14

EDI celebrates the life of General Powell—a true role model who acted on the principles and values that guide this office.



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