Colin Powell was born the son of Jamaican immigrants, and he grew up in New York. Over six decades, he rose to the highest levels of national service of any black American.
At least for the next few hours.
But that was a honor he seemed happy to concede to Barack Obama, as Powell spoke to a sell-out crowd at the Minneapolis convention center.
He recalled watching Obama's victory as he awaited the election returns during a speaking trip to China last fall.
"I expected it, but in politics, you can never be sure of anything, but I expected it. And I'd worked for it. But it still hit me and still hits me today like an electric shock. It just stunned me. I sat down. I talked to my family crying in Virginia, and I couldn't speak for a few moments. But then, I'll never forget the words that came to me, the words that I whispered to an empty room. My God, we did it," said Powell.
Powell said he hopes to watch Obama's inauguration from the platform on the Capitol steps in Washington tomorrow.
Powell himself is no stranger to the White House. He served as a fellow there during the Nixon administration and as the National Security Advisor during Ronald Reagan's final two years in office.
He remained in Washington as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during most of the administration of the first president Bush and eight years later, he joined the second Bush administration as Secretary of State.
Powell met with reporters shortly before his breakfast remarks and reflected on his part in the outgoing administration on its last full day in power.
He cited successes in the nation's relationships with India and China and a widely praised program to fight AIDS in Africa. But he also conceded the military mistakes in Iraq and the continuing difficulty in bringing Afghanistan into the international fold.
Powell also talked about the ongoing humanitarian crises in southern and eastern Africa.
"I'm distressed by Zimbabwe; I'm distressed by Darfur. We had a number of problems that were not solved. The international community has not solved them. It's not just America's problem to solve. It's the international community. The Mideast is another one. And so, I think we accomplished a great deal, but as is the case with every new administration that I have been a part of, you don't come in and find everything neat and everything cleaned up. You pass the problems on. And some of these problems are not easy to solve. They take years to solve," said Powell.
Powell says he still hopes to work on some of those problems, at least indirectly. He maintains a high political profile, even years after he left the foreign service.
Powell offered a key endorsement of then Illinois Senator Barack Obama during the final weeks of the presidential campaign. Powell also said he was one of three men, along with John McCain and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, being honored with pre-inaugural dinners in Washington, D.C. tonight.
But he also said he doesn't plan to work in the Obama administration after the inauguration.
"I'm a friend of the president-elect, and we stay in touch, but I don't plan to have an official role, either in a staff position, or in the cabinet," said Powell.
Although he rose to prominence leading soldiers in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, Powell also has some connections to Minnesota. He jokingly remembered icy winter trips to Camp Ripley to inspect national guard units during his career as an Army officer and a youth leadership center in South Minneapolis also bears his name.