Condoleezza Rice packs house for A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club celebration

Condoleezza Rice packs house for A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club celebration

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said too many children, especially those with minority backgrounds and living in poorer neighborhoods, are being left behind in a world that is increasingly competitive. But community-focused programs can play a pivotal role in reaching those children and helping them succeed.

Rice made the remarks Monday during the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club’s 48th Anniversary Celebration in Birmingham. The event drew more than 700 people to the Cahaba Grand Conference Center.

In a wide-ranging, on-stage conversation with Alabama Power Chairman, President and CEO Mark Crosswhite, Rice focused mainly on education, but also touched on world affairs, Birmingham’s segregated past and current renaissance, and college football.

Rice and Crosswhite were co-chairs of the event, which also served as a fundraiser for the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club. In addition to serving on the national board of directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Rice is co-founder of the Center for a New Generation, a program that works with boys and girls clubs in several cities, including the A.G. Gaston club, to provide after-school and summer academic and enrichment programs.

Rice, who lives in the Silicon Valley area of California, observed that U.S. children continue to lag behind many other developed nations in math and science scores. On the other hand, the United States is still considered a world leader in innovation.

How is that possible? It’s because the United States is “importing the talent” from other countries, she said, noting that about 40 percent of Silicon Valley startup companies have at least one foreign owner.

She said not only must there be a greater emphasis placed on helping U.S. children learn the skills to become the next generation of innovators, there also needs to be a greater focus on retraining adults who are being left behind in today’s post-industrial, information-based economy.

Remembering her hometown

A Birmingham native, Rice said the city today is dramatically altered from the segregated society she knew as a child. And yet, she recalled fondly the city’s tightly knit Titusville neighborhood where she grew up – a place where people focused on faith, family and education. “It was our armor against the difficulties of Birmingham,” she said.

Rice said the changes in Birmingham were made clear to her years later, when she served as provost at Stanford University and “competed hard” to lure star faculty and researchers away from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She called UAB a “tremendous magnet” for some of the best talent in health, medicine, and biotechnology.

Rice said she enjoyed her time as Secretary of State and National Security Adviser, but quickly disavowed speculation she might consider returning to a similar position in a future presidential administration. “You really can’t go home again,” she said.

She described as “a great experience” her ongoing membership in the college football playoff committee, and said last season’s victory by Ohio State in the national championship “made us look like geniuses.”

Rice made clear she would not favor expanding the current playoff system, in which committee members choose who they believe are the best four teams at the end of the season to compete for the national championship. “You don’t need more than four,” she said.

Investing in the future

Birmingham Mayor William A. Bell Sr. praised those who turned out for Monday’s event, saying the dollars raised would help ensure a brighter tomorrow for the children who rely on the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club and its after-school and summer programs.

“Sometime soon, we are going to be dependent on this next generation. If we don’t invest in them today, then we darken our future.”

Rice said the financial support was gratifying, but that there’s much more that can be done for children – not only through financial support but through volunteerism, mentoring, and providing work experiences and internships. “Kids need connections,” Rice said. “Sometimes, it’s time that’s what’s needed most.”

Learn more about the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club.

This post was originally published on Alabama NewsCenter.