What debate, I ask?   As I often like to say, "people are funny…"

Here is a man, literally a living legend, who walked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as his top lieutenant, and for the following 40 years has been a distinguished mayor, congressman, UN ambassador for the United States, co chair of the Atlanta Olympic Games, winner of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Carter, hero to and savior for the African continent, recipient of more awards than I or he can count (and he would not know because those things don’t matter to him), a man with a university of international acclaim named after him (the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University), chairman of his own private sector company, Goodworks International (that gives most of its profit away …empowering young Africans in Africa to become professionals on his own dime), chairman of Reverend Leon Sullivan’s legacy organization, the Africa-African American Leon Sullivan Summit (where I will speak in July, 2006 in Nigeria), not to mention spokesman for Operation HOPE and the champion of countless good causes around the globe. In short, a man not only of unmistakable integrity, but one who literally defines the term "public servant." …and all that somehow gets negated, by some, because he decides to engage in a common sense conversation with the largest retailer in the world, the largest employer in America, and the largest employer for black folk in America — Wal-Mart? I don’t think so.

The fact of the matter is, he is doing here exactly as he has always done; become the voice of reason for folk who cannot seem to find common ground on their own. The only difference between this and the civil rights movement, as I like to say, "is the civil rights movement was fought in the streets, while the ‘silver rights movement’ will be fought in the suites." And that is the only difference. The time and tactics have changed, but the battle for social justice continues. Note to self: the folks fighting the civil rights movement did not get everything they wanted either.

Reverend Andrew Young. Civil Rights Leader Andrew Young. Mayor Andrew Young. Congressman Andrew Young. Ambassador Andrew Young. Living legend Andrew Young…. My hero Andrew Young, is still fighting for our rights, even when we don’t understand or even appreciate it. He is at a different place in his life, and he knows that we need a different approach to solving our problems.  Andrew Young also knows that a real leader has to be willing to sacrifice something personal and dear – like putting a part of your reputation at risk – in order to create real change.  Nothing comes easy, and with respect, most folks don’t have much vision. They see what’s in front of them, or worse, they simply see what they are against. It is much harder to figure out what you are for, than simply what you are against.

So yes, Andrew Young is representing me — when he sits at the table with the chief executive officer of the largest retailer in the world today. He is representing my and our collective interest, and doing it with the respect, integrity and dignity that only bridge builder Andrew Young can bring. It is also what is required to actually facilitate change. Because business leaders don’t respond well to what some might call negative encouragement, or worse public embarrassment and outright public disrespect. They simply turn off.  Quoting my friend Paul Irving, CEO of prominent law firm and power broker Manatt, Phelps, "I would prefer to have Andrew Young at the table with Wal-Mart, than not."

The best approach is the same one that works with, well, …you.

What do you want someone else to do in dealing with you, in a difficult situation where there is an honest difference of opinion? Try to actually put yourself in your or the other person’s shoes, empathize with their perspective, let them know yours, give them a reason to be concerned (about your perspective), find common ground, and then do something truly miraculous — actually come to some agreement where everyone wins. Win/win, not win/lose. This is the only approach that is truly sustainable. Cursing folks out will get you zero respect, and maybe a short term change in policy, but dignity offered, and understanding extended, will secure the real prize from a CEO of one of the world’s largest companies and employer — a changed perspective. You figure out which one you want.

My pastor, Reverend Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray, former pastor of First A.M.E. Church, use to tell me "John, make sure you always leave even your adversaries with their dignity. Because if you don’t they will make it their life business to make you miserable." Enough said. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

And what, by the way, is the alternative to Ambassador Young sitting down and finding this sought for common ground with Wal-Mart? What would his critics have him do? Do they want Wal-Mart to go out of business? Oh, that would be smart. Reminds me of something Shimon Peres told me; "even if you want to distribute money like a socialist, you first have to gather money like a capitalist." Enough said.

I am going to continue this with a part II later, but suffice to say that Ambassador Young is doing exactly what Dr. King did; fighting for justice, and not "just us." And he is getting, in the short term, exactly what Dr. King got in his lifetime — ridicule, and an almost complete lack of true appreciation. Well, Reverend, Leader, Congressman, Mayor, Ambassador, Hero Andrew Young – I appreciate you. 

Remember, you cannot even have a rainbow without a storm first…


John Hope Bryant, Founder

Operation HOPE

P.S. To read The Debate About Andrew Young, Part II, click here.

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