With Colin Powell

With Colin Powell

No longer on the world stage since his retirement in 2004, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is channeling his energy into efforts that hit closer to home.

As founding chairman of America’s Promise, Powell challenged the nation to provide social resources and educational opportunities for young people. He helped establish the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies and serves on the board of governors for The Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

After Hurricane Katrina, Powell was critical of the government’s response to the disaster, an issue he discussed with BLACK ENTERPRISE. We caught up with the retired four-star general at the United Negro College Fund’s 62nd Annual Awards Dinner, where he and his wife, Alma, were honored for their humanitarian efforts.

It’s been almost a year since Hurricane Katrina devastated the coast. What can African Americans do now to help the thousands who were displaced?
African Americans suffered greatly as a result of Katrina. Many of them have had to leave their homes and communities, and it’s not clear if many of them will be able to come back. They’re probably making other lives for themselves in Texas and elsewhere, and that’s good. But there are so many of them who do want to come back because New Orleans is their home. I hope that between the city, the state, and the federal government, and with African American philanthropy at work, we can help these people rebuild their lives and homes back in New Orleans and in the other black communities that were devastated by Katrina. This is a time for blacks to not just talk about doing something but to do things either through business investments or through donations and organizations that are helping these people.

Many of the displaced were poor African Americans who didn’t have the resources to evacuate New Orleans. What kind of policy can black political organizations and community activists push for to ensure that a disaster of this scale never happens again?
The Congressional Black Caucus has been very active in pressing the administration and pressing the Congress to provide money. And it seems that the black community, through its many organizations, should put the pressure on the Black Caucus, but not just the Black Caucus. The Black Caucus can’t do it alone. We’re beyond that. We need to have the black community put pressure on all members of congress to make sure that the president gets funding and that the money gets to the people who need it.You have been critical of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

I don’t think we were quite ready for the tragedy that befell Southern parts of the United States. I hope we learned our lessons, especially the government at all levels. It was not just a federal problem; it was a state problem and a local problem. We’re all now turning to the task of rebuilding New Orleans and other towns and cities in the South.

Volunteerism is something in which you believe strongly. Why do you think it’s so important?