Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell was probably the envy of his fellow authors at the Congressional Black Caucus' Expo and Book Fair held recently during the organization's 42nd Annual Legislative Conference.
Powell, 75, a decorated soldier and former secretary of state under George W. Bush, got the rock star treatment as he promoted his latest effort, "It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership."
"I could have written a much, much longer book. I had the option – this or a political memoir," said Powell during an interview of his 283-page memoir. "I wanted to talk about life and leadership. As I go around the circuit, people always ask more about life. This was more timely."
The book draws on Powell's insight and experiences over the course of a 35-year military career, his service during four administrations, and a Jamaican immigrant upbringing. One of the themes he focuses on is the seminal role parents play in shaping a child's behavior and view of the world. He said children need to be taught to "mind the adults, mind your manners, and mind yourself."
Wherever he went during the book signing, Powell was surrounded and trailed by a phalanx of security and PR types who did their best to protect the former secretary of state as he moved around the upper floor of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown D.C. People jostled each other to get a closer look, most, armed with smart phones and cameras snapped away and others rushed to buy a book when they were told that that would be the only way they'd get close to this icon.
Powell, national security advisor under President Ronald Reagan and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent more than an hour talking to an audience about his book, sitting at a small round table where he signed his book, posed for photographs and smoozed with awestruck admirers and then made brief remarks before being whisked away.
He elaborated on some of those remarks later.
"It's fascinating that even though we have iPads, Kindles and other gadgets, people are still buying books. There may be large numbers of Kindles, e-books and such but a book is still a book."
Powell, who retired as a four-star general, said he is adapting and adjusting to life in a digital world.
"I have to prepare for the youngsters," he said with a laugh. "I have an iPad with 40 books on it. A lot of them I buy on impulse. This technology of the modern era is fascinating and an example of a changing world."
Powell discussed the digital phenomenon and what it means for leadership and decision making in greater detail with radio and television personality Tavis Smiley during a June 11 interview.
"I'm 75 years old, and I was born analog. I'm desperately trying to become digital both to keep up with the world and to keep up with my grandchildren," he said. "The new generation is born digital and is living in a digital world. We're all living in a world with touch-screen devices, of smart phones, living in a world where the Internet is driving so much of our life. We have to get used to it. Everything is moving at 186,000 miles per second."
Education in the home and in the public sphere remains one of Powell's pet projects. His contribution to effecting change in this area is the America's Promise Foundation which he and his wife Alma founded in 1997. The foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of children and young people and it has drawn in more than 400 national non-profits, educators, policymakers, businesses and communities.
"Education doesn't have to just do with school, it's about children doing well in life," he told Smiley.
"We have no more important obligation than to educate those who replace us," he said.