Miramar mayor remembers Colin PowellTuesday, October 19, 2021
By Howard Campbell
AMONG the items on Wayne Messam's bucket list was to meet General Colin Powell. The current mayor of Miramar in South Florida never fulfilled that dream but had an enduring admiration for the former United States secretary of state whose background was similar to his.
Powell, whose parents were Jamaican, died yesterday at age 84. In a statement, his family gave the cause of death as complications from COVID-19. They also said he was fully vaccinated.
Messam, who was born in Florida to parents from rural Jamaica, described Powell as “a man of great character”.
He added that Powell's appointments as the first black man to be chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and secretary of state were outstanding achievements. Importantly, he never hid his Jamaican roots.
“I think that was very significant. To people like myself, we saw that as an example that anything is possible because he succeeded in an area that was dominated by white males,” Messam noted.
Dahlia Walker-Huntington, a Jamaican attorney based in South Florida, met Powell once at an immigrant rights event in Washington, DC. She was impressed by his humility.
“He achieved so many firsts as a black man in America and he never forgot where he came from. He laughed at being thought of as having graduated from West Point because he said he would not have been accepted,” said Walker-Huntington. “But he literally pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become the first black national security advisor, first black chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and first black secretary of state. He also was a great tactical soldier and a mentor to young men in the armed forces.”
Interestingly, Messam and Walker-Huntington point to a moment considered a blot on Powell's career to be a high point of his life. In February 2003 the secretary of state made an impassioned case at the United Nations for the US invasion of Iraq, stating that intelligence showed that country had weapons of mass destruction.
After information to the contrary surfaced, Powell admitted he was wrong. That caused a deterioration in his relationship with President George W Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.
“After it became clear that he was given wrong information that led to the invasion of Iraq and all its fallout, he admitted that he was wrong. So rare that you find a person of his power and influence would publicly admit that they got a critical decision wrong,” said Walker-Huntington.
Born in New York, Powell's roots were steeped in Top Hill district, St Elizabeth, where his father Luther was born. He visited the area and Jamaica several times.
In October 2002 he was a member of the Carter Center team (along with US President Jimmy Carter and heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield) that monitored Jamaica's general election.