Condoleezza Rice: An Extraordinary, Ordinary Family
By Kristi Watts
The 700 Club
Original Air Date: October 26, 2010
Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice is a woman of renowned influence and inspiration on and off the national stage.
She was the first female provost at Stanford University. She was also the youngest at age 38. She was the first female National Security Advisor, and she was the first black female Secretary of State.
This remarkable and respected woman has a deep humility and credits all of her success to her family, John and Angelina Rice, her parents.
In a family memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People, Condi or Condoleezza as she prefers to be called, tells their inspiring story of how family, education and faith made her into the woman she is today.
Condoleezza: It’s a story that says you can come from pretty humble circumstances, and you can be expected to do great things if you have a few ingredients. I had parents who gave me unconditional love.
Along with love was a passion for education. They instilled in Condi a belief that nothing was beyond her grasp. She could be or do anything she put her mind to. Growing up in Birmingham Alabama in the 1950s and 60s, Rice’s family lived right in the heart of violence and racial strife. Neighborhood bombings were nightly occurrences and segregation was the norm. But as the tide changed in American history and Blacks fought for personal freedom, the Rice family was in the forefront -- encouraging one another to look beyond racial biases and to look towards their dreams.
Condoleezza: We owe so much to our parents’ generation, because they had every reason to be beaten down, so to speak, by what they saw. Every day the humiliations of segregation. Every day the negative messages of segregation. And yet they lived lives of dignity. They lived productive lives.
In my little community, the teachers were people who expected the best of their students. There were no excuses and there were no victims. In this place where you could have quite easily felt a victim and therefore felt that you’d lost control of your life, they always told you, ‘If you are twice as good, if you worked hard, if you get an education, if you speak the language well, if you’re true to faith and family and community, then you may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control your reaction to your circumstances and you can still have a productive life.’”
Kristi Watts: I know that your dad was a Presbyterian minister. So what was life like in the Rice family growing up?
Condoleezza: Well, the Rice family’s life was very much centered around the church. Started on Sunday when you wouldn’t dare be any place but church on a Sunday.
In the afternoon my father had a youth fellowship. And that was where he brought kids from really all over the city. He also had social events. He had the opportunity for them to go to a synagogue so that they could learn a little bit about Judaism. He took them over to a White church in the middle of Birmingham so they would know about something other than their little community. And then on Tuesday we had tutoring in Algebra and French… In other words the Rices spent most every day in church.
Kristi: So what was it like being a preacher’s kid? I mean you already had expectations there, both your parents highly into education … your dad was definitely a social figure in that area. But now you have the extra compounded stress of the PK.
Condoleezza: Being a PK. Well, in my family it was OK, because my father had actually been a PK too. His father was a minister. So they tried not to put that pressure on me, but of course everybody looked at what little Condoleezza was doing.
I was very much active in the church, because at a very young age I started playing the piano for the church, so we were kind of an interesting family. My mom played the organ, my father preached and I played the piano.
Kristi: One of the things that they taught you was diplomacy or the democratic mindset. I thought that was brilliant when you guys voted...
Condoleezza: You mean when they made me president?
Kristi: Yes! Who does that?
Condoleezza: Right. Who does that? I was president of the family. I was president of the family from very young. I think I was about four when I was first elected. You see, we didn’t have term limits. I knew that my mother was going to vote for me every time. I wasn’t so sure about my father, but it was a secret ballot so it didn’t matter. I won every time.
There were actually responsibilities as a part of being president. I organized family meetings. When we were about to take a family trip, for instance, I would call a meeting. What time we were going to leave? What kind of food are we going to prepare? So I had real responsibility.
Kristi: What are some of the characteristics in your mom and your dad that you look at yourself and you’re like, ‘They had that and I have that too’?
Condoleezza: My father in particular was someone who just loved people. He was a people magnet. He loved to be around young people and to open up the world to them. I see that in my love of being a professor. Because I like to be around young people and to do what some professors did for me, open up worlds that you otherwise would not know about. So I see my father in me.
My mother was an artist, and I think I inherited her artistic temperament, her love of the arts, her belief that the arts are really our democratic heritage. They shouldn’t be for the elite. I see in myself that desire to provide the arts for children who might not otherwise have that experience.
Of course, the one thing that both of my parents had that I’m grateful to have is a deep and abiding faith in God.
Kristi: Who is Jesus Christ to you?
Condoleezza: Jesus Christ. Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ. Son of God. Jesus Christ. The embodiment of God on the earth. Jesus Christ the resurrected Savior who will secure my eternal soul.
Kristi: When did your parent’s relationship with the Lord translate into your own relationship with the Lord?
Condoleezza: For me it was a kind of a gradual process because never one day in my life can I ever remember doubting the existence of God. I didn’t go through those kinds of crisis of faith that people do. I think in part it was that my father, who was a trained theologian and was willing to debate me and let me reason about my faith. I never went through that crisis of confidence about faith. But I did go through periods, particularly shortly after I moved out to California, where I just grew complacent about my faith. And so I stopped going to church regularly because I was a believer; I didn’t have to do that. I stopped reading my Bible regularly I was a believer; I didn’t have to do that.
Or so she thought. A tough first year at Stanford made her realize that she needed God more than she thought.
Condoleezza: That was probably for me a turning point. Because it was the first time that I realized that not only could I not rest on the laurels of my parents’ faith but I couldn’t rest on the laurels of my own faith, that it takes constant tending and work to do that.
Kristi: Let’s take it a little bit deeper. A lot of times people might look at you and think – intellectual. I do. So when a person might have that assessment it’s easy to look at faith or even the Bible from an intellectual standpoint but reality, the Bible, the Word of God is a heart thing.
Condoleezza: It’s funny you say ‘intellectual’ and it’s true. I do like to struggle with the Bible and struggle with history but there are times when your intellect won’t help you.
When my mother died or when my father became ill and died, that’s when I really understood for the first time the phrase, “…the peace that passeth understanding.” Because there are things you can’t understand. But still you can find a certain peace. It was the first time that my intellect actually was pushed aside and I had to come exposed in a sense to Christ.
Kristi: This might sound like a strange question, but I know that both of your parents have gone on to be with the Lord and I know that they’re up in heaven right now. Do you think about that time you’ll meet and the three of you guys will be together again?
Condoleezza: Yes, of course. I think of joy. I love the passage about, seeing Christ’s face and we will see His face. I think my father will have probably held a few Bible studies.
Kristi: Sitting next to Jesus saying, ‘Let me tell you.’
Condoleezza: Right. Challenging things. Challenging right as he always did. But I think of joy. I’m so grateful that there is eternal life to look forward to.
Kristi: If your parents were sitting here right now, what would you think they would say about your life or what you’ve accomplished and what’s to come?
Condoleezza: Well, I know that they always said, ‘You’re well prepared for whatever is ahead of you. Remember that. And remember you're God’s child.’ I always loved that and at the same time found myself a little embarrassed by it. And I would say something like, ‘We’re all God’s children’ to try to deflect it. But they really believed that everything that they did for me was somehow in this larger context of being God’s child. So I have a feeling that’s what they would say again. I would be very grateful because the one thing that I say every night is ‘Thank you Lord for the incredible, extraordinary ordinary parents that you gave me.’
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