A Commentary By
John Hope Bryant, founder, chairman
chief executive officer, Operation HOPE
Why was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so brutally criticized during his time on the leadership world stage on the one hand, and conversely, in the end so effective too? Witness Dr. King’s commitment to walking with Jews, referring too many, rightly so, as “friends of the civil rights movement,” even though they differed on the critically important topic (to Christians) of Jesus Christ. Or Dr. King’s determination to stay engaged in constructive discussions with then U.S. President Johnson on civil rights, which they agreed on, even though they passionately disagreed on the Vietnam War, and individually said as much. Somehow they found a way to disagree without being disagreeable. This commitment to staying focused on the issues at hand, and what “they could agree on,” is precisely what led to the ultimate passage of the most sweeping civil rights legislation of the 20th century. And this is also precisely what Andrew Young is doing today on the world stage, and predictably, getting criticized by some for doing it.
Let me turn now to a recent online article published by the Black Agenda Report on Ambassador Andrew Young and his recent agreement to host World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz earlier this month in his home town of Atlanta, Georgia. Once again, I was “in the room” for this event, and otherwise present for the historic Dr. King Memorial dedication in Washington, D.C., both of which were incorrectly reported on in the same article.
Let’s start with the obvious; why host World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz? Well, first of all, he is the president of the World Bank, the largest investor in Africa, home to 600 million plus black people; my people.
Ambassador Young has always thought it constructive to consistently expose and engage the students of his Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University with and to the individuals and institutions playing important roles in the world we live in; from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, both of whom the school has played host to. The Andrew Young School is a mosaic of the world we live in; made up of a diverse blend of students from literally around the world, including of course a substantial percentage of blacks from African countries, is doing real work in 41 countries, and where half the students are earning their masters and PhD degrees, including six recent graduating Nelson Mandela Fellows. One current student will return home after graduating to take her place as the deputy director of that African country’s central bank. Agreeing to host World Bank President Wolfowitz made all the sense in the world, then and now.
Now, for some needed clarification of fact.
Andrew Young called Dr. Wolfowitz a “peace maker.” He did not. I was there. So were live television cameras. Not even close. Now, if someone wants to get overly sensitive about civil language between two leaders with possibly different views on the world, but the same agenda for Africa, they should have been even more bothered by Ambassador Young’s gracious remarks about Dr. Wolfowitz at the Anacostia Economic Summit hosted by Operation HOPE on May 5th, 2006, where they both spoke and first met. But on this occasion, in Atlanta earlier this month, Ambassador Young simply called the man a “change agent” within the World Bank for Africa, which I might add, my black African friends at the World Bank have confirmed is indeed the case. In other words, Wolfowitz seems genuinely interested in “doing something” substantial for Africa and this should be encouraged; encouraged by everyone. Fact is, when an anti-(Iraq) war activist cited his concern about Wolfowitz at the Andrew Young School hosted discussion (Wolfowitz was deputy secretary of defense when the Iraq war was authorized by the Bush Administration and Congress), it was Ambassador Young himself who went on record to note his “basic disagreement with the approach to the war,” but then he went on to say something much more important given that Wolfowitz is now President of the World Bank, no longer employed by the Bush Administration, and now accountable to more than 150 nations around the world; they “agreed on Africa,” and the desperate need to do something for the poor people there.
Ambassador Young left the MLK Memorial dedication in Washington, DC and “went to a Republican fundraiser.” Wrong again. First of all, Andrew Young is a committed Democrat and has been one for his entire adult life. A rational one willing to talk to just about anyone willing to help the cause of “the least of these” for sure, but a proud Democrat nonetheless. He did not attend any Republican fundraiser in DC. I don’t know where folks get this stuff, let alone a sense that it is okay to actually print that which they have not confirmed in fact.
Again, I was with him at that dedication. He shed a private and public tear for his dear friend, the late and deservingly honored Dr. King, and then he headed straight to the airport for Boston, where he was scheduled to speak at 5pm that evening before students of the Howard Thurman Institu te at Boston University on the life and legacy of Dr. King. Now, this is documented and public information, so I don’t know how someone gets this wrong. And by the way, Thurman was a teacher of Dr. King, and it was a group of liberals, not Republicans he was speaking to.
Ambassador Young said that he and Wolfowitz “shared the same mentor.” Well, this would be correct actually. His name was George Schultz, and at the time Andrew Young met him Rep. Young was in Congress and on the Banking Committee, and Schultz was Secretary of Labor and later Secretary of the Treasury, not his much later and more controversial role as Secretary of State. Fact is Schultz took Young on his first trip to Africa, for a World Bank meeting of all things, in 1974, and before that Schultz asked Young to accompany him to Jamaica for a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank.
Even more shocking, “working together” Schultz and Young helped to found the Inter-American Development Bank and the African Development Bank, two institutions that have done a significant amount of good in the world. Helping the poor help themselves, I might add.
It was this counsel and “mentoring” about free enterprise that later assisted Congressman Young when he became Mayor Young of Atlanta, where over 8 successful years he:
* Attracted $70 billion in private investment into Atlanta. That’s $70 BILLION.
* Created more than 1 million jobs, and countless black millionaires in Atlanta.
* Secured 35% of all public contracts for minority contractors in Atlanta.
* Gave all City government agencies the right to organize labor, and actually organized the Police into their own labor union.
* Raised all City workers above the poverty level, most notably the 30% of City workers who were living under the poverty level when he got there.
Some talk about making a positive difference in the world, but Andrew Young’s life has been dedicated to actually making change real in people’s lives everyday. When most folks are talking about what they are going to do for themselves in their own “retirement,” Ambassador Andrew Young is still working for the poor; trying to make the world a better place for you and me. His life achievement should speak for itself.
I guess what I am saying is, “I like what Andrew Young is doing, much better than what other folks are not doing.” That most all of us know precisely what we are against, while Andrew Young has figured out what he is actually for, and is doing something meaningful about it. That is why I call him my personal hero.
I find it interesting that folks who criticized Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for “his tactics” (i.e. the 100 plus prominent religious leaders who criticized King and Dr. King’s subsequent response entitled “A Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” and Malcolm X and his near constant personal verbal attacks on Dr. King until 1968, when Malcolm X actually become a fan of King, etc), were the same folks only to (40 years) later refer to him as their “life long hero.”
We should all remember that Dr. King did not die of old age. Neither did Gandhi, or Malcolm X, nor the greatest of them all – Jesus Christ. They were killed for what they believed in. The same beliefs that were later completely vindicated, but criticized brutally in their time by those of short sight, and even shorter vision. These were all broad minded, inclusive leaders, in a time ruled it seems by a cynical, closed minded leadership class with lost hope.
Yes, I like what Ambassador Andrew Young is doing, much better than what other folks are not doing. And maybe, just maybe, there is also a lesson here for humanity as well; that over the past 40 years, since Dr. King’s death, most of us have become experts in what we are against, but over the next 40 years we must all become experts in what we are for.
Onward, with HOPE
John Hope Bryant