NEW YORK — Colin Powell earned international renown for his storied career as a statesman, but he never forgot his South Bronx roots.

What You Need To Know

  • The former U.S. secretary of state spoke just weeks before his death at an event City College hosted

  • Powell fondly recalled the diversity of the Bronx block where he grew up

  • Powell was instrumental in helping to educate the next generation of civic leaders

  • He also helped to build affordable housing in the South Bronx

“Kelly Street had on it every type of person you can imagine,” Powell recalled of the block where he grew up, speaking Sept. 30 at an event hosted by the City College of New York. “There were Jamaicans, there were African Americans, there were Puerto Ricanos, there were Jewish. There was everything you can think of. We were all there.”

The former secretary of state, the first Black American in that and other national leadership positions, regularly recalled his childhood. Powell, 84, said the city shaped who he’d become as a soldier and diplomat.

“And so everything you could imagine in terms of the different nationalities and the different people was on Kelly Street,” he said at the City College forum held just weeks before his death Monday. “It meant so much to me as a I grew up and learned the importance of diversity.”

Powell was born in Harlem and raised in the South Bronx. He was the son of Jamaican immigrants, a product of New York City’s public schools and a proud graduate of the City College of New York.

And Powell gave back, including through what’s now known as the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.

Vincent Boudreau, founding dean of that institution and president of City College, told NY1 that Powell knew his responsibility as a steward “of a vision of an educated society that, because it’s educated, is secure, is prosperous, is stable, is fair, is just — all of those things. So that vision of where education sits in the life of a democratic society, that was all him.”

Powell was also instrumental in the development of the Gen. Colin Powell Apartments affordable apartment complex in the South Bronx. He cut the ribbon on the opening of the so-called green building 11 years ago.

Residents there and in the surrounding area voiced their gratitude for how he represented the borough.

“He came from humble beginnings, such as the South Bronx. Some of the best people who make a difference in this world come from the South Bronx,” Vivian Henriquez said. “He was an exemplary role model.”

“And everybody loved him,” Jose Henriquez chimed in.

“Everybody loved him,” Vivian Henriquez continued. "The way he carried himself, the way he served his country."


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