Video: Powell plays hardball

updated 5/23/2005 12:04:56 PM ET 2005-05-23T16:04:56

Colin Powell is a four-star general who became a national hero as one of the architects of the first Gulf War.  He wrote the blueprint commonly known as the Powell doctrine for using overwhelming force in military conflicts. 

His autobiography became an instant best-seller, but his story didn't end there. President Bush named him to be secretary of state.  And while he often found himself at odds with administration hawks over foreign policy, he in the end made the case for war with Iraq before the United Nations. 

Now Colin Powell has returned to a cause he holds close to his heart, helping underprivileged young Americans. Chris Matthews spoke to General Powell at an event for his organization, America's Promise. And while he wouldn't discuss politics or the war in Iraq, it was a chance to catch up with his latest mission. 

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The campaign is called America's Promise, The Alliance for Youth. We formed it some eight years ago.  And it's intended to bring into the lives of needy young people the resources that we think they need to be successful, responsible caring adults. 

It's a safe place in which to learn and to grow, a healthy start in life, skills they need and an opportunity to give back.  We've been at it for eight years.  We've had a lot of success with it. My wife is now the chairman of the organization. We have got a great board. And more and more communities and corporations are joining into this effort to bring these resources in the lives of young people in need. What we have just done is to launch a new effort as part of America's Promise. And that's to identify the 100 best communities in America for young people. 

Why? Because it's good to have a little competition. But it's not just to identify the 100 best.  But through this process of looking for the 100 best, encourage thousands of communities around America to take a look at what they're doing. Can they do more? Can they hear from each other? Is there synergy in all of this? And can we take America's Promise up to another level? 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, 'HARDBALL'  HOST: How do we get kids coming out of the inner city, or rural areas, or wherever, to have the skills to compete in the world?  Because according to Tom Friedman's latest book, a kid coming out of America has got to compete with a kid from India, man to man, woman to woman. 

POWELL:  You'd better believe it.  Our youngsters are now in competition not just with other youngsters in America, but in this “Flat World” that our friend Tom Friedman talks about, we're competing with Indian engineers, and Pakistani engineers, and Chinese youngsters who are going to science fairs, high-school science fairs, and you can get five million Chinese students in such a science fair, but only about 65,000 Americans. 

So we have got to put our youngsters on a better track to success in our schools, which means better schools, more investment in our schools, more investment in our teachers.  But it's not just the schools.  It's responsibility of families, as well, to give the youngsters the right start in life. 

So Head Start programs, and you know, focus on the family, all of this is important to start kids off well.  They don't start their educational experience in the first grade.  They start it at home with adults reading to them, adults giving them a send of purpose and discipline, how to mind your manners, how to listen to somebody.  These are the basic things youngsters need as they start down the educational path. 

Once they get into our schools, they've got to be challenged.  They've got to be pressed to apply themselves, to study hard, to take the things that, you know, most youngsters tend to shy away from, at least I did, math and science.  We need more of our youngsters going into these technical fields. 

MATTHEWS:  Let's imagine there's a sharp adult out there right  now.  He may be retired; he may be still be working.  He's an empty nester.  He doesn't have any kids anymore.  He's a little scared about going perhaps into the inner city and saying, “I'm going to help a kid.  I'm going to connect up with a kid who may not have the right attitude toward me right now.”  How do you get him past that barrier of saying, “All right, I'm going to take some risks.  I'm going to help a kid”? 

POWELL:  It's a great question.  And what we have to do is expand programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters, which can appeal to this empty nester out there.  We're not asking you to become this kid's father.  We're just asking you to spend a couple of hours a week in touch with this youngster, to hear this kid's dreams, to give this kid the benefit of your experience, be a big brother, not a father. 

We're not asking to you take on the full burden of responsibility for that youngster.  Most of the youngsters that we look for mentors for have parents.  The parents just need some additional help, or it's a single parent who needs some additional help. 

So I would say to the empty nester, “Reach out.  Go on your community Web site.  Reach out to big brothers and big sisters.  Go to your church.  See what you can do.  And see if you can not give a few hours a week to get in the life of one or two or more youngsters and share your experience.  If you have raised children, then you know what it's all about.  Here's a chance to touch another young life.”

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask the last question for the general and the former secretary of state.  What's it like being like this, doing this kind of thing, compared to trying to keep order in the world? 

POWELL:  Well, it's a little different, but you know, I did this before. And I will be helping my wife and all of the other leaders of America's Progress with this effort.  But I'm also looking at other things that I think will keep me in touch with that world that you've made reference to. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you give us any scoop? 

POWELL:  Well, I'm looking at a number of ideas as to how I can use my experience as a general, as a diplomat, to remain involved in the needs of the world.  In fact, the kinds of challenges that we're dealing with here at home, that America's Promise is addressing, are challenges that exist all over the world.  And maybe the kind of promised approach we have taken to this challenge here in America is an approach that I can take to the rest of the world or other countries in the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, please come back and give us a briefing on that at the time. 

POWELL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, General Powell.


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