Stltoday_logo3_1Young08big_1 ST. LOUIS

Andrew Young, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Saturday that America has made little progress in fighting poverty. A key weapon is educating people about money, he said.

"Nobody has to be poor in America if you understand money," said Young, who spoke at a statewide kickoff to celebrate the birthday of the late civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Young was a top aide to King.

"We’re in the system of capitalism and we don’t understand capital," he said.

Young, who also was mayor of Atlanta for two terms and a former U.S. representative, is chairman of Good Works International, a consulting firm from Atlanta, and is a spokesman for Operation Hope, which works to eradicate poverty.

He gave the keynote address at the program held at Harris-Stowe State University and sponsored by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. State Celebration Commission.

Young told members of the audience they cannot depend on the government to provide adequate financial education.

He cited athletes as an example. He said they can have a $100 million contract "and still be broke in 20 years."

Speaking about the importance of public education, he said it helped children learn how to get along with each other and it built some toughness.

He said children suffered "a certain cultural retardation" if they attended school only with those from privileged backgrounds.

Young said he started learning in the third grade how to deal with kids who tried to take advantage of him.

"I became an ambassador by the time I got to fourth grade. … The toughness that comes from public education doesn’t come from Harvard," he said.

The reason so many businesses flounder is, "You’ve got these folks with these MBAs that don’t know nothing about people," he said.

Young said that they thought the way to save businesses was by cutting them back and laying off workers.

"That doesn’t make sense. … the way you grow a business is by going out and getting more business."

Young also spoke of the need of people to try to understand each other.

"Racism is not something that is black and white … racism is almost original sin in preacher’s terms," Young said. It can be reaction to the "basic insecurities" that affect everyone.

"Racism is no longer with us legally. … Spiritually it manifests us in almost everything we do and think," he said. "The struggle against insecurity is a lifetime struggle."

He said that if God can love both him and Pat Robertson, a controversial fundamentalist preacher, and "let us all get into heaven despite the fact we are so far apart, we’ve got to figure out a way to love one another."

During the event, the commission gave Young its Distinguished Chairman’s Award. It also recognized the late Rosa Parks with its Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. Parks died Oct. 24 at age 92. Her arrest in 1955 for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala., was a key event in the modern civil rights movement.

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