Monday, October 18, 2021

My Memories of General Powell

I was saddened today to hear of the death of General Colin Powell.  I've seen many tributes on social media and they are well-deserved.

My story is a bit different.  

I first learned of General Powell as I watched him use maps to describe troop movements during the first Gulf War. It was a nightly event on TV news.

Then, a few years later, he became the champion and leading organizer of an event called "The President's Summit for America's Future" which was a gathering of delegations from 150 cities along with four living Presidents in Philadelphia in late April 1997.

I was chosen as one of Chicago's 10 delegates and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which I had formed in 1993, was one of 50 Teaching Examples invited to have a booth at the Summit.  

I was optimistic about the Summit because in the build-up I saw a clear message in the media that its purpose was to draw attention and support to the 13-15 million most vulnerable children in the United States.  That's the same group that I was focused on helping.

In the image at the top of this article I show one of many media stories featuring General Powell, under a headline of "Keeping America's Promise".  I circled the paragraph in the article which says, "At stake, as he sees it, are the lives of some 15 million youth who are vulnerable to drug abuse, gangs, violence, pre-marital sex and other social pathologies."

Below is another story, from the April 27, 1997 issue of Parade Magazine.  I can't find an on-line version of this, or the one above. You can click on the image to enlarge and read the article.

On the second page, at the bottom is a  paragraph that says "We estimate that 15 million young Americans are lacking access to one, or more of these resources."  

The resources that the Summit pledged to bring to these youth were:

. an ongoing relationship with a caring adult mentor
. safe places to learn and grow
. a health start in life
. a marketable skill through quality education
. an opportunity to share through community service

Having led a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program for many years,  and collected news stories showing the need for such programs for many years,  I recognized that Chicago had more than 240,000 kids who fit into the target category.

I also realized that without a consistent flow of operating dollars it is really difficult to build and sustain a program that attracts kids and volunteers to weekly tutor/mentor sessions and keeps them coming back for an entire school year, and many more after that.

I started using maps in 1993 to show where these kids were most concentrated and where organized programs were needed.  I added overlays to my maps showing where existing programs were located and published a Directory that businesses, foundations, parents, educators and others could use to find programs in different parts of Chicago.

I was in the Army in 1968-71 and studied military history in college before entering the Army. Thus, I knew how generals use maps.  I expected General Powell to use maps the same way.

Here's a slide from a PDF presentation that I created nearly 20  years ago to visualize the use of maps. 

I saw General Powell in many presentations. I kept waiting for him to start a meeting by pulling up a map of Chicago and saying "This is your city.  The shaded areas are where kids need the five promises."

Instead he told the story of how he was helped by mentors and how that changed his life.

That's an important message. But I expected more from Generals who need to think of all the places where the enemy has forces and the supply chains needed to assure that we had forces in the same places, with better weapons, better training and better motivation. That's how you win wars.

I've written about this before. Click here and you can find the last time.  I've also Tweeted to the America's Promise group to encourage them to use maps. They were formed in 1997 to carry out the goals of the Summit and General Powell and his wife have led it ever since.

What changed after 1997?

I emphasized the 13-15 million kids that the Summit intended to help in the above paragraphs.  Unfortunately, by 1999 this focus was gone and instead there was an "all kids need help" emphasis.

Yes, all kids do need help.  But without consistent focus and a flow of resources, those 13-15 million kids who need help the most won't get what they need.  Some will. Most won't.

That's one reason we still have the same problems today as we had leading into the Summit in 1997.

I don't blame General Powell. I just expected more. 

It's not too late.

Below is a concept map that visualizes some of the thinking that I believe Generals apply to win wars. Note the map on the right and the emphasis on building public will on the left. 

In honor of General Powell's memory I encourage leaders in Chicago and other cities to study this map and read through articles I've posted on this blog and in the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC library. Then, build a planning process that makes a wide range of tutor/mentor programs available to K-16 youth in every high poverty neighborhood and a supply chain of needed resources that keeps them there for 10 to 20 years.

See if this doesn't do more to help vulnerable youth in more places than what has been done in the past. 

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