TAMPA — For more than three decades, former Secretary of State Colin Powell chartered a career as a soldier in the U.S. Army, eventually rising to the rank of four-star General.
Nowadays, the one-time Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff criss-crosses the country touting the importance of education.
Seeing the former statesman champion education may be a head-scratcher for some, but Powell said his new post military career is not out of line with his former life.
After all, underneath the uniform was an educator – of sorts, he said.
"For 35 years as a soldier, who did I talk to who did I train?" he said. "Kids."
An estimated 2,000 attendees packed the Tampa Convention Center to hear Powell speak at Hillsborough Community College's Black, Brown and College Bound Summit Luncheon.
The annual four-day summit — now in its 10th year — brings together students, educators and celebrities to discuss solutions to improve the number of black and Latino men completing college.
In addition to education, Powell — who served as the country's highest-ranking statesman under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005 — also talked about his immigrant parents and growing up in the South Bronx in New York City.
"We have to make sure we're educating all the people, all the kids," he said. "We have to make sure that no child is left behind."
Powell, who was born in New York City, said his Jamaican immigrant parents instilled in him a love for learning.
While many military prep schools were closed to him because of racial segregation, Powell said he received a good education through his hometown's public school system.
Powell then had the media escorted from the room.
Savannah Vanholten, a business student at Hillsborough Community College's South Shore campus, described Powell's speech as "inspiring," noting his laments about children born to young, unmarried parents.
"He spoke the truth," she said. "It's what people need to hear."
State Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, attended and said Powell also addressed the extreme divisiveness in American politics, calling it the worse he'd ever seen.
Powell told the audience that whomever is elected president won't be a "Superman or Superwoman" who can solve all of the country's problems, Narain said.
"It's up to "Superpeople", the American people, to fix it," Narain said.
Powell also discussed the state of public schools, affirmative action, and disdain for the term "baby daddy."
Earlier in the day, Powell met with students for a special workshop session at the Hilton hotel in downtown Tampa.
At that meeting — which he also closed to the media after a few minutes — Powell shared with them the great responsibility he felt to his parents to do his best in school, said Anthony Lynch, a student at both Hillsborough Community College and Towson University.
"It was very important that he didn't disappoint them," he said. "He was very informative and motivating."
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]