Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Introducing Condi Rice

The Italian musical term is “con doleeza”, a direction for one to play “with sweetness”. I am quite sure that when her parents so named her, they did not envision that she would have to develop many qualities exactly the opposite of that direction as her life’s work advanced. Condoleezza Rice was recently nominated by President George W. Bush to become the new Secretary of State. This is one of the most key positions in any Presidential administration, yet so few people know very much about “Condi”, as her friends call her.

Condi was born on November 14th, 1954 in Birmingham, Alabama as the only child of John Wesley Rice, Jr and Angelena Rice, both of whom were Jamaican immigrants and both of whom became university professors. Her father was a high school athletic director and assistant football coach who later became a minister. Her mother was a music teacher, and the family had dreams of her becoming a musician. Thus the influence on the choice of her name. Born and raised during the time of segregation in America, Condi stated that she always felt the need to be “twice as good” as non-minorities. She was just nine years old when racism reared it’s ugly head in her life, when a schoolmate became one of four young girls killed in the bombing of a Baptist church by white supremacists.

She dreamed at first of becoming a concert pianist, and was able to read musical notes before she could even read words, but after enrolling in classes at the University of Denver at the young age of just 15 (she skipped both 1st and 7th grades), she took a course being taught by Josef Korbel, a Czech refugee and former diplomat, on international politics. This man would change the course of her life. Korbel, the father of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, mentored young Condi, who grew to call him “one of the most central figures in my life.” She graduated from Denver in 1974 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and just a year later obtained her Master’s from Notre Dame. She later obtained her PhD from the University of Denver’s Grad School.

After receiving her PhD in 1981, Condi became a member of the faculty at Stanford University and embarked on a teaching career. She grew an impressive list of credentials in international affairs while at Stanford, serving as a member of the Center for International Security and Arms Control. She was also a senior fellow of the Institute for International Studies, and a fellow of the Hoover Institution, both highly regarded in the field of world affairs. In 1984, she received the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching, and published her first book, Uncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army.” In 1986, she co-wrote “The Gorbachev Era” with Alexander Dallin.

Then in 1989, Condi was invited to join the administration of President George Bush (the father) as director of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council. She later became it’s senior director, and a special assistant to the President for national security affairs. The fact that Condi speaks Russian, French, and Spanish in addition to English was certainly an asset as she helped the administration through this period of major world change, including German re-unification, the fall of the Soviet Union, and democracy in Poland. President Bush was so impressed with her that he introduced her to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as “the one who tells me everything I know about the Soviet Union.”

After serving the Bush administration, she returned to Stanford in 1991, and received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse College. In 1993 she was appointed as Provost, the school’s chief budgetary and academic officer, and received the Stanford School of Humanities and Science’s Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 1994 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alabama, and then another from Notre Dame in 1995. Also in ‘95, she co-wrote the book “Germany Unified and Europe Transformed” with Philip Zelikow. In 1996, she served as a Special Assistant to the Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and than in 1997 served on a federal advisory committee studying gender-integrated training in the military. In 1999 she again left Stanford, this time to join the Presidential campaign of George W. Bush (the son), where throughout 2000 she worked as his foreign policy advisor.

Prior to joining the Bush campaign, Condi was a member of the board of director’s of Chevron Corporation, and the company actually named an oil tanker after her, the “Condoleezza Rice”. However, after ‘W’ won election, Condi was picked to serve as the National Security Advisor. In an ensuing controversy, the tanker was renamed the “Altair Voyager”. The new Bush administration apparently felt that Chevron had too much bad environmental baggage for a member of their higher staff to be so intimately linked, though the Chevron bosses would not publicly admit that political pressure was the reason for the name change.

It wasn’t just Chevron that had the honor of Condi’s membership on it’s board over the years. She has also served on the boards of some of the biggest and most prestigious companies in the country including Charles Schwab Corp, the Carnegie Corp, the University of Notre Dame, J.P. Morgan’s International Advisory Council, the Rand Corp, Transamerica Corp, the Hewlett Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, and both the San Francisco Symphony and KQED, San Francisco’s public broadcasting station.

In 2002, Condi received the NAACP’s prestigious Image Award for her work as the National Security Advisor. In 2003 she received an honorary doctorate from the Mississippi College School of Law, and followed that up with honorariums from both the University of Louisville and Michigan State University. In 2004, “Forbes” magazine named Condi the world’s “most powerful woman.”

Yet the power that this single woman, who still aspires to becoming a concert pianist one day, really wants more than any other is that of the Commissioner of the National Football League. A fan of the Cleveland Browns since childhood, Condi has visited with the team on a number of occasions, and has told NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to let her know if he is ever ready to stop down. In an interview with Newsweek magazine, Condi was once quoted “My parents had me absolutely convinced that, well, you may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworth’s, but you can be President of the United States.”

It is amazing that some African-Americans do not appreciate her as the type of woman who any parent of any race would want as a role model. After Condi received her NAACP Image Award, Yolanda Rebecca White, a writer, poet and composer with her own strong academic credentials, said of her in the Baltimore Chronicle’s “Speaking Out” section “Let’s take a look at Condi in action. She is in the white-male-dominated Foreign Policy arena, where she is supposedly the equal of her peers. But other than the well-placed and well-orchestrated photo opportunities showing her sitting at the conference table of Bush advisors, and a few appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows, she has been totally invisible.” She goes on to ask why Condi received the award, and answers herself that the NAACP was “Star-Struck....makes the same mistake made by so many so-called African-American leaders, for whom acceptance by white people, even in a token capacity, leads to an Afro-American being glorified and lauded for no reason at all.”

For no reason at all. The feelings expressed in that piece by White show her own ignorance, and possibly hint at jealousy and even possibly a problem with her own last name. But it is a feeling shared by many of her black peers, who have tremendously successful role models to both follow themselves and provide for their children in people like Condi and Colin Powell and Clarence Thomas. But these people are seen often as sell-outs rather than successes. Perhaps if they cursed, rapped, and disrespected their mommas, then they’d be more hip? It is long past time for black Americans to open their eyes, recognize true role models in their own community, and embrace them. Yes, that’s a white man saying that. And yes, I have some nerve.

Condoleezza Rice is a glowing example of all that is Right with America. She worked hard, was raised by two loving, caring parents, got a strong education, exposed herself to numerous experiences, and made a successful life for herself. She didn’t let her musical background lead her to gangsta rap. She didn’t do drugs. She didn’t curse ‘The Man’ and fight the system. She rolled up her sleeves, went to work, and became an American success story. She is about to become the 2nd female, and the 2nd black American, Secretary of State. The first to combine those qualities. It says here that Condi should not only be embraced by all black Americans, especially by black women seeking positive role models for their children, but by all Americans of any sex, race, ethnicity or religion. Back in 1999 for the National Review, Jay Nordlinger wrote if Condi were to become the Secretary of State, that she would be “Rock-star big. A major cultural figure, adorning the bedroom walls of innumerable kids and the covers of innumerable magazines.” For all our sakes, I hope he is proven correct.

Condi, we hardly knew ye before. You were just the smart-looking black girl sitting next to the President, or Colin Powell. After this article, hopefully any of my readers have grown to know you a little better. I know that after researching it, I most certainly have, and am looking forward to her tenure as Secretary of State. One of Condi’s Stanford mentors, Coit Blacker, a deputy director of Stanford’s Institute for International Studies summed her up for the Stanford Daily in one sentence. He stated that she possesses “a kind of intellectual agility mixed with velvet-gloved forcefulness.” The combination of these qualities has served both her, and our country, very well indeed.

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