Put aside the fact that Andrew Young helped to write the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in the streets of Birmingham and Selma.
Put aside the fact that he went on to become a two-term congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, a two-term mayor of Atlanta, bringing more than $70 billion in investment to the city during his time as mayor, and the first black United States ambassador to the United Nations.
Put aside the fact that he co-chaired the Atlanta Olympic Games, which everyone agrees simply would not have happened without his involvement and leadership.
Put aside his 100 honorary doctorate degrees, his U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom award, as presented by President Jimmy Carter, the schools named after him, from the Andrew Young Center for International Affairs at Morehouse College, Dr. King’s alma mater, to the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.
Put aside his chairmanship of the Southern African Enterprise Development Fund (SAEDF), appointed by then President Bill Clinton to chair this $100 million fund to spur Southern Africa’s entrepreneurial development.
Put aside his chairmanship of one of the largest black-owned international consulting firms in the world, GoodWorks International, with offices throughout Africa, and all the active corporate mentorship the company does raising up an entirely new generation of African and African-American executives in waiting.
Put aside his humanitarian work around the world, and his newest credential as film producer, for the “Andrew Young’s Africa” documentary series, with their first film, RWANDA RISING, now being shown on all domestic and international long-range flights on Delta Airlines.
Put aside that he is an ordained minister, husband, and a beloved father and grand-father.
Put aside all of these things, and you still have a man who has a profound and relevant understanding of where we have been (our history), and most importantly, a vision for where we are going (our future); whether it be blacks in America, Africans in Africa, or leaders from the public and private sectors the world over.
And with all of this, Andrew Young is simply a nice, kind, gentle and loving man.
A friend of mine once told me “when you have the power you don’t need to use it.” This is certainly how Andrew Young lives his life, “decreasing himself, increasing others,” to quote another one of my heroes, the Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray, builder of First A.M.E. Church.
Andrew Young is a teacher at heart, and I am honored to be but one of his student pupils.
But there is also a practical reason I follow Ambassador Andrew Young’s lead, and why I asked him to become the global spokesman for Operation HOPE; because he has done that which I seek to humbly continue.
You see, during the civil rights movement, what most people don’t know is that Dr. King would often ask Andrew Young, or Andy as King would call him, to do a special service for him at critical points in the movement. When you see television reels of Dr. King and others marching today, and you don’t see Andrew Young, it was at these times that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would ask of Young, “…Andy, do me a favor; while I am marching, go meet with 100 of the top business leaders in town, and see if we can find common ground.” You see, Dr. King believed, as did Young, that if you could get 100 top business leaders in any city or town to agree to anything rational, the political leaders would have little choice but to eventually come around. And time and time again, this is what happened during the civil rights movement. Andrew Young would help to set it up, and Dr. King would pay it off.
And not knowing this, is precisely why some people get baffled, and don’t understand when they see Andrew Young today serving on corporate boards of directors for companies like Delta Airlines. Young sees involvement in private enterprise at the highest levels as part of a critically important strategic pathway forward for black America; one originally forged by the one I refer to as the first “silver rights” leader of the 20th century, the late great Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, who was the first black to serve on any major corporate board of directors in America, General Motors.
Or they get confused when they see Andrew Young working with Nike, or most recently, Wal-Mart. There is no confusion here. Andrew Young is continuing that which he has done for more than 50 years now; serving his people, finding ways to build bridges between folks who don’t normally get along, building roads of opportunity, and quoting Andrew Young, “making free enterprise and capitalism relevant to the poor, and making free enterprise and capitalism finally work for the poor.” Most don’t know that Wal-Mart employs more African-Americans than any other company in America. Quoting a prominent friend of mine, “I would rather have (Andrew) Young sitting at the table with the CEO of the largest employer (for black people) in America than not.”
Or the brilliance of his chairmanship of the Leon H. Sullivan African-African American Economic Summits, where last year in Nigeria he told more than 18 African heads of state, “you can make more money honestly from a growing economy, than you can steal from a dying economy.”
When Ambassador Andrew Young says “in the civil rights movement we succeeded in integrating the lunch counter, but we never succeeded in integrating the dollar,” Andrew Young is helping to point the way to the future, and to breathe relevant new life into any social agenda adopted by those who seek to uplift the African-American community in the future.
When Ambassador Andrew Young says “to live in a capitalist society with no true access to capital, or understanding of capitalism, is nothing more than a sophisticated form of slavery,” he is trying to engage us viscerally, and intellectually, around a future focus – the vital importance of understanding the language of money in America.
When congressman, banking committee member in the U.S. House of Representatives, mayor, former UN ambassador, civil rights icon and living legend Andrew Young says that even he was financially illiterate as an adult, he is saying that there is no indignity in not knowing, and making mistakes. That no one should feel ashamed because “they didn’t know what they didn’t know.” That sin is not failure, but low aim.
When he signs on to become our HOPE global spokesman at Operation HOPE, and my mentor, he is saying and signaling to the nex
t generation that real leadership is found in service to others. He is saying to our young people, “do not give up hope, for I will be a bridge for you, from civil rights to silver rights.”
“Use me,” Andrew Young says. How powerful and humble is that form of leadership? Young’s generation were “focused on we, while our generation seems to be focused on me.” Andrew Young is reminding us that Rome failed only when it shifted from the “we” agenda, to the “me” agenda.
When Andrew Young travels 300,000 air miles a year, criss-crossing America, Africa, Asia and Europe, he is saying “you cannot call yourself a leader unless you are prepared to serve others,” and he is also making a powerful case for “showing up” in the lives of those we care about.
I have learned that even when the world thinks he is wrong, time and history eventually proves that the world was wrong instead. Note his resignation (actually, he was fired) in 1979, as UN ambassador because he engaged in a dialogue with the Palestinians. Well, guess what everyone is now saying is at least part of the solution in the long-running Israel-Palestinian crisis today? That’s right, a dialogue with the Palestinians.
As a living legend of 75 years of age, going on 45, he is also saying that no one gets a pass. We must all “do the work” of being the change we want to see in the world.
Andrew Young once told me that his personal criteria for taking on something new (a social cause) was “to find an issue of substantial merit that no one else wanted to touch.” Isn’t that precisely what Jesus Christ did?
Like I said, I am proud and honored to “follow one Ambassador Andrew Young.” I am a better man because I had sense enough to shut up, listen and learn.