By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, JD
Founder/President, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice
It’s worth noting that two historic U.S. figures — former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice — were each recently recognized for their service. Both are not only respected for their role as Secretary of State, but also held in high regard by a wide circle of leaders and citizens.
On September 5, Gen. Powell received a bust in the Circle of Firsts at the Buffalo Solder Commemorative Area on Fort Leavanworth. This Circle of Firsts recognizes the significant “firsts” in the history of African-American soldiers and units in the U.S. Army.
In addition, on October 6, Sec. Rice received the US Military Academy’s Thayer Award at West Point. This honor is bestowed annually on a U.S. citizen for outstanding service in the national interest demonstrating “Duty, Honor, Country” — the Academy’s motto.
Both of these outstanding individuals are certainly worthy of these recognitions. They each served the U.S. during critical junctures of our history — most notably the Persian Gulf-War and 9/11. Gen. Powell was the first African-American Secretary of State and the first and only African-American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff as Chair. Sec. Rice was the first female National Security Advisor and only the second woman and second African American to serve as Secretary of State — which together makes for a unique first.
But perhaps most noteworthy is not the status they achieved or their “firsts” — but the character they embody. Both of these leaders have been known, respected, and admired not just for what they have done or become, but how they did it — with a strong work ethic, knowledge & wisdom, civility, and patriotism. These characteristics have inspired people from varying levels of the socio-economic ladder and a range within the political spectrum to value their service, even if they don’t agree with them on all aspects of their leadership.
These types of leaders should not only be recognized in military circles, but also in broader societal circles. The point is not just to give them an award for their service, but to signify to our U.S. citizenry ideals of service and leadership. Certainly within our society there are others who will one day become like a Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice — but they need to regularly see examples like Gen. Powell and Sec. Rice for inspiration.
Too often than not, the images and representations in our society are far from the ideals of strong work ethic, knowledge & wisdom, civility and patriotism that Gen. Powell and Sec. Rice represent. Sometimes those ideals are even represented as out dated or out moded. Those perspectives are a result of not seeing enough of the examples of ideals and too much of the opposite. So, let’s recognize, honor, and award those who achieve good in a good way – not only as firsts but as norms.