Students Learn from Andrew Young
A former leader in the Civil Rights Movement and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young built a career in local and global politics as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the mayor of Atlanta. He is the Ivan Allen Prize for Social Courage recipient for 2018 at Georgia Tech.
Andrew J. Young called the Georgia Tech students to attention.
“Now is the time to ask questions,” the civil rights leader said. “Whatever is on your mind about what is going on in the world today. Don’t be scared.”
Young had just received the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage, which honors those who demonstrate leadership to improve the human condition despite personal risks and challenges. After learning he was receiving the award, Young requested that the day’s activities included an opportunity to interact with Georgia Tech students. College students, he said, are “not afraid of anybody different.”
About 50 students attended the town hall Thursday afternoon to ask him questions about his life and gain insight from his knowledge and advice about some of the most pressing issues we face today.
Erik Van Winkle, a mechanical engineering major from Atlanta, asked how to bridge the divide in today’s society.
“You don’t want to,” Young said. “That’s the genius of democracy. Our variety of opinions.”
He asked students to imagine they’re all standing on four different corners and there’s an accident in the middle. Each person will see something different because of their perspective. If we can learn from other perspectives, it allows for more nuanced understanding. And if we can open our minds enough to gain all four points of view, he said we will have a richer view of reality.
Another student asked how Young would have used social media had it been available. Young was a key strategist and negotiator during the civil rights campaigns that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Young explained that living a public life taught him he should never answer hypothetical questions because his answers could be reinterpreted.
But social media, he said, is a challenging development. He joked: “I can’t get Siri to answer me.”
“I’m old. I’m 86,” Young said. “I still got some time left I think … I’m trying to figure out how to use social media. I’d like to talk with a group of people like this every day of my life.”
When Young was elected to Congress in 1972 he was the first African-American representative from the Deep South since Reconstruction. President Carter appointed him as ambassador to the United Nations in 1977, making him the first African-American to hold that position. Young later returned to Atlanta, becoming mayor and leading the effort to bring the Olympics to the city.
Chelsea Burks, a business administration major from Ellenwood, Ga., asked what words of affirmation Young would give himself.
His advice: “Don’t get mad. Get smart.”