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Dr. Condoleezza Rice featured speaker at A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club luncheon

CBS 42 news anchor Art Franklin (left) and Condoleezza Rice talk about the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times)
By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
CBS 42 news anchor Art Franklin (left) and Condoleezza Rice talk about the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times)

Former U.S. Secretary of State and Birmingham native Dr. Condoleezza Rice returned home Monday as the featured speaker at the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club (AGGBGC) annual luncheon at the downtown Sheraton Hotel.

Rice held a conversation on stage with television news anchor Art Franklin to discuss not only the AGGBGC but also current affairs and her new book Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations Can Anticipate Global Insecurity.

The conversation came as AGGBGC is looking to build a new facility to replace the current Kirkwood R. Balton Clubhouse.

A current capital campaign underway “extends the reach of an already proven entity,” she said. “The AGGBGC is 50-plus years old . . . when you now can take that and make it available to so many more kids in a part of Birmingham that needs revitalization, we’re very excited about that.”

Rice calls children of the AGGBGC “strivers.”

“They are ones who want their lives to be better but they find road blocks,” she said. “When you go to the club you see that they are doing a lot with facilities that really need to be updated.”

Rice said computer literacy is “something you cannot exist without in America any longer” and that’s where AGGBGC can play a part. “To do that in a building with substandard wiring it would be more expensive to redo it than to do it anew,” she said. “They’re going to be able to do so much more with this facility and it’s going to be fantastic.”

Before coming to the luncheon, Rice said she attended a meeting at Innovate Birmingham and brought Meg Whitman, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and Ebay because “I want people to see what’s going on in Birmingham.

“I was here with venture capitalist friends in December and what’s going on in this city in terms of government and private sector and corporate sectors, philanthropy and organizations like the AGGBGC and the school system and you have to have all stakeholders working together and this city is showing that,” she said.

At the luncheon, Rice shared the story of her grandfather, John Wesley Rice, Sr., a sharecropper in Eutaw, AL. He wanted to get a proper education and attended Stillman College in Tuscaloosa.

“He saved up and went to Stillman, after his first year they asked, ‘how are you going to pay for your second year?’” she said. “He said, ‘how are those boys going to college?’ and they said, ‘they have what you call a scholarship and if you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister you could have one too.’ My grandfather said, ‘That’s exactly what I had in mind.’ So my family has been college educated and Presbyterian ever since. He knew that education was going to transform him into someone that he would have otherwise not ever have been.”

Rice also talked about her new book, Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations Can Anticipate Global Insecurity which was written after she taught a course on political risk and couldn’t find a book on the topic.

“The idea is that the sources of political risk are multiplying now,” she said. “Just ask United Airlines about a passenger or two with a cell phone who capture bad behavior by one of your workers. That’s political risk. Just ask Facebook about a great power behaving badly called Russia, which decides to interfere with the American election, uses your platform to do it and before you know it you’re before Congress trying to explain why Russia used Facebook to interfere in the American election. That’s political risk.

“Just imagine you are Sea World and somebody makes a $77,000 documentary film and your greatest asset, Shamu, is suddenly your greatest political liability and people are saying ‘shut down Sea World.’ That’s political risk. The sources of political risk can multiply.”

Rice also spoke about whether student athletes should be paid.

“My strong view is that athletes should not be paid for playing basketball or football in college,” she said. “The value proposition is you’re talented, you get to play your sport, you get the best medical care, the best coaching. And if you go to class and if the university provides a major that is real – no fraudulent courses — the value is you get a college degree. That college degree will buy you $1 million in earning power over someone who doesn’t get a college degree.”

Only 1.2 percent of college players will go to the National Basketball Association, she said.

“There are only 60 positions to be drafted in the NBA,” she said. “Forty percent, by the way, are going to foreign players, and the NBA career average is only four years.  So, you’d better have a Plan B. Your Plan B is your college degree.”