Beth Ann Gaier

Colin Powell is a Jamaican-American, who before Barack Obama, held the highest position an African-American had ever held when he was secretary of state under George W. Bush. His culture and background as a Jamaican-American shaped the man he became as a military and political leader for the United States. He is a renowned speaker on leadership and is highly regarded by all for his success. His successful life demonstrates African diaspora because he spread his Jamaican culture through the ranks of the military and the rooms of the White House.

He kept his Jamaican heritage while pursuing his American dream. When visiting his native country with his wife in 1992, Powell received the keys to the city of Kingston. In his book My American Journey, he explains that when he was receiving the key he told the mayor, “I’m American-born Madame Mayor, but you’ve handed me the keys to my second home.” This statement exemplifies African diaspora that originated with the Middle Passage and slave trade centuries ago. Since the height of the slave trade, African-Americans have been retaining their native culture and embracing American and various other African cultures at the same time. Even after Powell was appointed chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, he did not forget his West Indian background because he “played calypso tapes” in his office that his “aides never could actually understand.”

Powell followed the progress of many West Indies-born Americans by successfully retaining his culture while pursuing his dreams. 

Powell is an example of being trans-local because he has multiple localities. He has both American culture because he was born and raised in New York as well as having Jamaican culture because of his close ties to the island since his family is from the West Indies. Additionally, as a member of the United States military he demonstrates a potential third locality. Many West Indies natives display this idea of trans-locality because they embrace various different locations. They hold on to their past while persevering in their future. While similar to cultural retention, it differs in the fact that they are connected to their culture on a local level. He has shown that a man from the “tenants” of New York whose family relocated from Jamaica can be a government holding official. Not only did Powell make a name for himself as a politician and member of George W. Bush’s cabinet, but he also fought vigilantly in the Vietnam War and won several awards such as the Soldier’s Medal, the Purple Heart and various others for his effort. 

Powell understands how to deal with the public because of his broad understanding of different ethnicities and cultures. Currently Powell is speaking in front of audiences across the country regarding leadership and regularly references his Jamaican heritage. He believes “leadership is solving problems … (and) is the art of accomplishing more than the sciences of management say is possible.” At 72, he is continuing his legacy as a dominating force in American government, as well as encouraging young African-Americans to spread their beliefs, culture and ideas by becoming successful in whatever they do in life. He has shown other African-Americans and fellow West Indies natives they are fully capable of maintaining their culture while interacting and acquiring achievements in a second culture. This positivity illuminates hope for future generations of African-Americans to help in African diaspora by retaining their culture, showing pride in their nationality and striving for the best in every aspect of their life.

Beth Ann Gaiergaierba@muohio.edu

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