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Six Degrees

Five former U.S. Secretaries of State gathered at George Washington University to give advice to the next president of the United States. Nothing profound or unexpected was uttered from a single one. It was more of the same – the same players living their comfortable lives speaking their politically correct language. I was hoping to hear something different considering the many crises we’re confronting as a nation.

Susan Taylor Colin Powell

At one point, someone in the audience asked if electing an African American president would send a powerful message to the world. Former Secretary James Baker responded that not only would Obama’s election impact us internationally but it would impact us domestically as well. He then went on to say that he was still endorsing McCain. This was a troubling answer but then General Colin Powell added that he had not decided who he would cast his vote for in November. He said he’s waiting until after the debates to decide.

I find it hard to believe that Powell, a man who enjoys close relationships with both candidates, would have to witness a debate before he’s able to decide for whom he’ll cast his vote. Surely, at this point, he’s well aware of each of the candidate’s positions on the issues that matter. My sense is either he doesn’t want his endorsement to impact the way the candidates are polling, or, if I looked at his comment more cynically, he’s waiting to see which of the candidates will fair best in the public eye before he decides which one to back.

Whenever I see Powell I’m reminded of six degrees of separation. Colin Powell was raised in the Bronx and so was I. In fact, Powell went to high school with my father, Martin Williams, and my aunt - Joan Allen. The three of them were in the same graduating class. All three are of West Indian descent. I’d always hoped that Powell’s experiences growing up in the Bronx, the son of West Indian immigrants, would give him insight other leaders lacked - that somehow he’d be less of a politician because he saw first hand the affect public policy has on the ground – I don’t know, with any certainty, that his background hasn't made him a better leader. I do know that I expected more from him. I expected more when he was Secretary of State. I expected more after he left office. And I expected more watching him on CNN this week. But maybe that’s where I went wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected so much.

This week, I met and was inspired by another person of notoriety who used to live in the Bronx, is Black and is also of West Indian descent – the former Editor-in-Chief of Essence Magazine, Susan L. Taylor. Ms. Taylor gave a rousing talk at the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum -- a talk that stirred all 100 in attendance to stand and take action.

The driving force behind the success of Essence Magazine, Susan L. Taylor was with Essence for 37 years. When she was first hired, Essence had 50,000 readers, when she left it had 8 million. But after giving 37 years, accomplishing a lot and making a lot of money, Susan Taylor still wasn't satisfied. This past December she left her cushy job to devote her time to establishing the National Cares Mentoring Movement an organization she founded because she was tired of reading the statistics.

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Said Taylor, “Failing schools, escalating crime and incarceration are sucking the life out of our communities. Enough is enough! Together, we must do what political will and public policy have not done: Be a lifeline and bring our young who are sinking to safe harbor. We are their only hope.”

The Brown Paper Bag Test

I was reminded of Ms. Taylor’s challenge while I sat listening to the five former Secretaries of State. I was reminded that we, the people, have to stand up and say, "Enough is Enough." I am waiting to see if my country will elect Barack Obama. If he becomes president I'll celebrate but I won't place all of my confidence in him or in any other leader to fix the problems that plague this country. We've all done this for far too long. We are as much to blame for the state this country is in as any member of the three branches of government -- the legislative, executive and the judicial-- all of these need the people's engagement to work properly. When it's all said and done, we're all connected by six degrees of separation. There is no "us and them" when we're experiencing financial meltdown, environmental catastrophes and the like. It's just we, the people.

And the future of this country is up to us, the people.

by Sharon Kyle

Sharon Kyle is the Publisher of the LA Progressive. With her husband Dick, she publishes several other print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues.

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