Paul White is a multifaceted and versatile man who has lived an extraordinary life. A senior U.S. diplomat, the 62-year-old Brazil native recently was honored in Washington D.C., receiving a Distinguished Career Award for almost four decades of dedicated service to the government of the United States of America.
Paul has lived and worked in a dozen countries, including Laos, Cambodia, Korea, Thailand, Japan, Panama, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico serving in high-level positions at the U.S. State Department's Agency for International Development.
He has traveled to more than 70 nations and is fluent in several languages. Besides English Paul speaks Lao, Thai, Cambodian, Korean, Japanese, Spanish and Russian.
He has received three awards from U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush; and he has worked closely with every President since Jimmy Carter. Paul received the highest civilian award of the Kingdom of Laos from the King of Laos. He has twice been nominated but declined to serve as a United States Ambassador.
In his job, Paul has met many nationally recognized individuals. He met the Rev. Billy Graham in Japan. He worked with Mother Theresa in 1990 in her home country of Albania, on the design of a new education system after the people overthrew the ruling communist regime. Muhammad Ali is a good friend with whom Paul has performed magic, one of Ali's hobbies.
Yet Paul says he's just an ordinary guy who has had a life filled with extraordinary opportunities.
What made this black man, who grew up in Brazil, Ind., in the 1940s and '50s, reach for such heights and accomplish so much? Just like the man, the answer is very complex.
The country was racially charged in the 1950s with the non-violent proetst movement to break racial segregation of public facilities in the South.
In the early '50s, black lawyers pressed a series of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. They argued that segregation meant inherently unequal and inadequate educational and other public facilities.
Rosa Parks, a black woman, was arrested for refusing to move to the Negro section of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955.
Blacks staged a one-day local boycott of the bus system to protest her arrest.
Fusing those protest elements with the historic force of the Negro churches, a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King, Jr. succeeded in transforming a spontaneous racial protest into a massive resistance movement.
But while racial discrimination was very prevalent, it certainly was not the only prejudice around.
There was prejudice enough to touch the lives of just about everybody in one form or another. The causes seemed to be endless. Besides race there was prejudice in religion, financial status, nationality, gender, physical anomalies, even height, weight or hair color.
While saddened and severely affected by prejudice, Paul's father, Clarence White, felt that more important than the damaging act committed by a prejudiced person, was the reaction of the person who was the object of the prejudice.
He deeply believed that how a person responded to discrimination was the true measure of that person's character, just as the unjust act itself, was the true measure of the perpetrator's character.
"Turn negatives into positives," Clarence told his son.
He wisely knew that negatives can be powerful motivators.
Paul White felt the sting and negative effects of discrimination growing up in Brazil in the 1940s and '50s. He knew it was because he was black.
Some whites, back then, still believed segregation was justified and the natural order.
Various business owners didn't believe they were discriminating against blacks when they refused to serve them. They were convinced that if they served the blacks, they'd lose their white customers. It was not discrimination, they reasoned, simply sound business.
Some whites questioned if racial discrimination even existed in Brazil during that time. They didn't see it.
But Paul White did and like other blacks in Brazil, he was forced to live with it. As a small boy he dealt with it as best he could and was helped through difficult times by the protection and security of a strong and loving family.
Monday: Clarence and Lillian White settled in Brazil.