Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice is one of the most well-known women in American politics. She credits her educator parents for her remarkable journey.

Childhood in Segregated Birmingham

Born in a black family, Condoleezza grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama. Both her parents were educators and believed in giving the best education to their daughter. Her father, John Wesley Rice Jr., was a football coach and a high school guidance counselor at Birmingham’s black public schools, and her mother, Angelena Rice, was a teacher and church organist. 

John Wesley Rice Jr. was also an ordained Presbyterian minister in a self-founded church named Westminster Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, and Angelena loved opera and music. Like her mom, she also loved music and started her piano lessons at 3, and at 4, she accompanied the church choir founded by her father. The first black female national security adviser read fluently at age 5. 

While the black schools thought of her as too young to be in grade one, her mother thought otherwise. Instead, she took a year off from her work to homeschool Condoleezza. Later, she jumped from sixth grade to eighth grade.

Her parents were strategic and made her well-prepared for the future. They raised her in a way that enabled her to confront the white society on their terms.

My parents were very strategic, I was going to be so well prepared, and I was going to do these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armored somehow from racism. I would be able to confront white society on its own terms.

Condoleezza spent her childhood during a racially charged time. However, her parents were determined that their only child would be an accomplished and confident young lady. Their life mantra was that she needed to be twice as good as others to succeed.

 You are going to have to be twice as good as everyone else to succeed in this world.

John and Angelena always taught her to be the best and outperform others. As a young girl of color, someone didn’t want to sit next to her, and when she told her dad about it, John responded with, “You know what, if they don’t want to sit next to you just because you’re black, that’s just fine, just as long as they move.”

As a girl, they always encouraged her to grab all the educational opportunities that came her way. But even in the unfair world, they taught Condoleezza never to be a victim. According to her, considering yourself victimized was a cardinal sin in her community.

International Politics Major

Condoleezza’s interest in music led her to attend Denver University as a piano major. But, soon she realized that if she continued to play piano, she wouldn’t have a glorious future in it.

Later, she went back to the same university to choose a different subject. She joined an International Politics course taught by a Soviet specialist, Josef Korbel, which instantly made her amused and triggered her interest in political affairs. Rice also considers professor Korbel as her longtime mentor.

To this day, when talked about her life achievements and inspiration, the former Secretary of State points to her parents. In an interview with NPR, she said, “I always say, you had to know John and Angelena Rice.” She also talked about her parents in her book, Extraordinary, Ordinary People.