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  • Writer's pictureDex Burns

Dex Burns statement on the passing of General Colin Powell


General Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State. Image credit: National Association of Counties

"It is not necessarily his quotes that inspire me, but how he consistently chose integrity and conviction over fragility."


I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of General Colin Powell. As I reflected over the past few days, I observed prominent figures like President Obama and Secretary Blinken highlight various inspirational quotes attributed to our country’s first African American Secretary of State. These quotes undoubtedly served to pay homage to General Powell’s great intellectual conviction. However, for me – it is not necessarily his quotes that inspire me, but how throughout his life, he consistently chose integrity and conviction over fragility.


His journey from humble beginnings to becoming the State Department’s top Executive continues to be an immense source of inspiration in my life. I was born into foster care and my adoptive Aunt knew how much I admired General Powell and gifted me a copy of his autobiography, My American Journey, as a young adolescent. I connected with many of the childhood challenges Powell described in his book while growing up on Chicago's Southside.


Makeshift memorial to Colin Powell on GW campus. Image credit: Dex Burns

As a high school student I had immense global career aspirations, and Colin Powell was one of the few highly visible foreign policy leaders who looked like me at the time. He was one of my heroes and I referenced some of his lessons on personal conviction, self-determination, and overcoming life's obstacles in my college application essays. I was vastly motivated by the career paths of General Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and decided to pursue a BA in Global Studies in 2010.


It has been widely acknowledged that Colin Powell had a long-standing commitment to diversity in international affairs. He has voiced his support for federal programs such as the Pathways Program, which provides career pipelines for young Americans into federal jobs. I began my professional career at the U.S. International Trade Commission as a Pathways Program hire in 2016. I believe as more influential foreign policy leaders push for greater accessibility to global careers, we will begin to notice a paradigm shift toward a more representative international affairs community.


As I walked the campus of the George Washington University this morning, I saw a makeshift memorial to Colin Powell and began to reflect again. I acknowledged the influence that he had on my academic career and my current role as a Lecturer at GW's Elliott School of International Affairs. Foreign Policy has been such an integral part of my professional journey and Colin Powell has, and will continue to be, influential in my personal story.

My thoughts are with General Powell's family, his friends, and his fellow admirers during this difficult time.

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