Conducted by Cynthia L. Blandford, CFO and Publisher Atlanta | Tuesday, February 22, 2022
You are nothing less than a living legend and I want to personally thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to grant me this interview today.
As the Publisher and CFO for the International Focus (iF) Magazine, I also want to thank you for attending the International Focus (if) Magazine Atlanta rollout at the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce on February 9, 2022, where you endorsed the magazine and stated at the event that “the iF Magazine is right on time.” You also thanked members of the Atlanta Consular Corp for their commitment to strengthening trade and investment in the city of Atlanta.
An icon of the Civil Rights movement, you worked as executive director of SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Council, where you became a top strategist and trusted friend to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and witnessed his assassination.
Tell me how this experience with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., changed your life forever?
Well, MLK was truly a great man and a great friend. But the emphasis is on being a great man, and the way I define that is that he was single minded in his purpose and his purpose was to redeem the soul of America, from the triple evils of racism, war, and poverty.
When we were sitting around one day, MLK said, “we have got to be clinically insane to think we can change this nation with limited resources. A bunch of sorry young black men have the audacity to think that they can make America better.” Then he said something prophetic … ”we will be lucky to live to 40, but if we live to 40, we have got to make it to 100 … because this is a lifetime struggle.” As you know, he did not quite make it to 40. He was killed shortly after his 39th birthday. And somehow, I am still around. I can never forget that. It is going to take more than my lifetime to get this country moving in the right direction. It does not mean that we are not moving there. But we take three steps forward and one step back.
We are making so much progress, and we are. The more progress we make, the more complicated it gets because as we change America, we are a part of a world that is constantly being changed. My wife says that I talk about this all the time. But I remind people that the invention of the printing press put a planet in a cultural, economic, and political upheaval for more than a century in the 1500s. We are experiencing very much the same thing today, and if the printing press could do that in the 15th Century, how much more do you think that cell phones and the internet and technology is creating and disturbing our growth patterns. This is not a simple world. It never was. Just as we began to feel comfortable, here comes a virus. So, we consider ourselves fortunate to have discovered a vaccine that helps us to contain and control it, and we are managing the Covid virus well, at least we are making progress and in just 2 years, even while almost one million have died of it. These are extremely difficult times.
Everyone wants the world and their lives to be simple until their lives get simple. When your life gets simple and you don’t have anything to do, you get bored. We are meant to be challenged. Just being with you at the iF Magazine official rollout on February 9th, we had twenty Consuls and Honorary Consuls General attending the event In the city of Atlanta, we have more than 70 Consulates which means that Atlanta is no longer a quiet southern town. We have become what we wanted to become. We wanted to be a great international city. We wanted to be the economic generator of the southern U.S. economy. We wanted to be an open door to Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean and now we are the open door to both Europe and Asia.
I’ve seen this happen in my lifetime, and I think helped make it happened. The airport and the Olympics. The airport is the world’s busiest. In 2019, the last year before the Covid virus hit, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport had 110 million passengers go through the airport in one year. We were the busiest airport in the world. Even during the crisis, we have remained the business in the world. We thought Beijing would be the busiest. However, we have come out on top.
In 1972, a predominately white district in Georgia elected you as its representative to the United States Congress, making you the first black man to serve the state in Washington, D.C. since the Reconstruction era.
Share with me what particular legislation you were most focused on in 1972 that you are most proud of and why.
You know, I don’t think about the legislation because, the first thing I did was to create the Chattahoochee National Park and it has continued to grow and expand. I am quite proud of that. I sponsored funding for the African Development Bank and was actively involved in the development of the World Bank. If you can’t get the money right, you can’t get the people right. I introduced a bill to create a Peace Academy. The building is in existence today, and I never had the chance to visit it.
One thing I do remember when I became Mayor was the introduction of an urban housing program for the City of Atlanta. The neighborhoods increased their value and houses were sold for a profit. That was planned gentrification. During that time the population grew from a less than one million to seven million people in Atlanta.
You have to realize that when I came through Atlanta, on my way to Howard University, Atlanta was still, in many ways, being run by the KKK. Atlanta was a very narrow minded, raciest city. I would not have wanted to be a part of Atlanta, however, when I came back to work with MLK, it became my job to help develop Atlanta. I think this is what we will have to see. I was one of those in my generation in the 1960s to come back. It was as early as in 1954 that people stated coming back to the south to help build back things. Atlanta was blessed with a network of four to five Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and we were able to integrate universities. Georgia State University is the largest, graduating more than 1,200 black undergraduate students per year.
One thing about Atlanta that I think is not typical of most cities in America is that we went to Wall Street and plugged into the global economy to help build our city. Atlanta’s airport did not cost taxpayers any money and look where we are today with the busiest and most efficient airport in the world!
Progress is educational, economic, political, and they all go together.
In 1982, you were elected Mayor of Atlanta, and during two remarkable Terms, you were credited with transforming the city into an international metropolis. I also worked on your mayoral campaign. It was largely because of your international influence that Atlanta was chosen to host the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996, where you served as co-chairman. I also witnessed the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, and it was a most exciting and exhilarating time me, for young and old, black, and white, and for people of all persuasions.
Ambassador Young, as Co-Chairman of the 1996 Olympic Games, at what point in time during the negotiations, did you believe that Atlanta had clinched the Olympic games?
Well, I decided we could win it before we even bid on the Olympics. One of my staff brough to me a list of the countries that had a vote. I went through the list of 85 countries and looked at where I knew somebody and realized that I knew 55 of the 85. If we can get 55, we could win it. We got 53 votes.
When we were campaigning for the Olympics, I travelled around Africa. The way I got the African vote I said look, “Atlanta is an African City. It was not my fault that your ancestors sold my ancestors into slavery … but we are not going to hold you responsible for that because we have gone through slavery, and we have regenerated an economy through education, economics, and just really hard work and vision. So we want you to vote for us as though we were on the African continent because it was some of your ancestors who moved us over here to North America. And so, that’s one of the things that got us the Olympics. We got a solid block of votes from Africa and the Caribbean states.”
Ambassador, do you believe that sports help heal nations and bring peace?
Well, sports do help heal nations and bring peace. You might remember that the U.S. did not recognize China until we had a ping pong match. The Russians and Americans competed in a hocky match and the United States won. We beat them at their own sport. They came back and beat the U.S. at basketball. I call it competitive equality. “If you sit on your butt…you are going to lose. If you want to be in the game, you need to be in the game for life.”
When I turned 75, I bet my friends that I could swim seventy-five lengths in the pool. We raised $25-30,000 because I swan fifty laps. I finished in under 1 hour. It is part of what it takes. This is what you learn in competition, like swimming. Individual sports are demanding.
The Andrew J. Young Foundation was created to help make your vision for the planet a reality. You serve as Chairman of this non-profit organization where you have some incredible programs and projects that you are working on.
Ambassador, did you want to highlight any particular program or project that your Foundation is focused on that you are particularly proud of that you want to share?
To tell the truth, at age 75 I started the Foundation and did not have any money. I felt that I needed to get into heaven, and I turned to the 25th Chapter of Matthew … feed the hungry, cloth the poor, heal the sick and set at liberty those who are oppressed.” For me, that is a special challenge.
Through the following projects, the Foundation is currently focused on finding sustainable solutions for food security and fighting malnutrition, job creation, and economic development. These solutions are poised to empower underserved populations and uplift the quality of life in the society worldwide.
LEMNA: Eradicating malnutrition through an abundant protein source known commonly as duckweed and found throughout the world.
Aquaponics: A fully portable food security solution for the development of sustainable communities in the U.S. and around the world.
COVID-19: A pilot program in Liberia in which the trace mineral selenium is being used to combat coronavirus by strengthening immune systems.
Mississippi River: One of Ambassador Young’s most ambitious visions would solve infrastructure and flooding in much of the U.S., while creating jobs.
Traditional Medicine: Working closely with medical researchers in the U.S. and Senegal, the foundation is on the cutting edge of alternative medical treatments.
Mobile Harbor: A promising solution for port cities which are not equipped to handle larger and larger shipping vessels.
Well, we have been doing pretty well and because we are an international city, I recognized that to run a good city, you have to get everyone involved.
It means that knowing all that you know working with the city, nation and internationally, you have to ask yourself, how are we going to feed the hungry, find water for nine billion people, and with the environmental challenges, how do we prepare for the future.
What we are doing at the Andrew Young Foundation is research and thinking about ideas. We need our food supplies in and around cities and neighborhoods. We also want to export ideas to Africa. It lets you know that all things are possible … if you only believe.
I was also happy to learn that you are getting ready to celebrate your 90th Birthday. Congratulations!
Your four-day Birthday celebration will be exciting and memorable. Can you describe what activities will take place during this special occasion?
March 9th there will be a 90 minute Global Prayer for Peace where I will deliver the keynote interdenominational sermon at First Congregational Church in Atlanta before a live audience and streamed to hundreds of churches around the world.
March 10th there will be a 90 Minute Walk for Peace & Reconciliation – the second day of the four-day celebration will start with a symbolic walk from Centennial Olympic Park to the spectacular new Rodney Cook Sr. Peace Park in Vine City.
March 11th there will be a 90-Day Exhibit Opening & Book Debut – the third day where we will showcase different life chapters of my life in an exhibit accompanied by unveiling of a coffee table book at the Millennium Gate.
March 12th there will be the 90th Birthday Gala at the Georgia World Congress Center where celebrities, family, clergy, stakeholders, business partners and the local and international community will join me in celebrating this wonderful milestone of my life’s journey.
Ambassador Young, is there anything else you would like to share with me at this time?
I hope the Atlanta Consular Corp and in particular, those who read the International Focus Magazine know that I came here knowing nothing and had no money, and yet, over time, being consistent, it was either courageous or stupid, I knew that Atlanta was going to make it and become an international community. As I stated earlier, “The iF Magazine is right on time.”
Ambassador, many thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule and again to grant me this interview for iF Magazine Atlanta.
I also want to take this time to acknowledge you again publicly for sending 100,000 tablets of Selenium to Liberia to help our front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was an honor and a privilege to work with you to help make this happen with your international partners to deliver this donation to the Minister of Health in Monrovia.
Happy 90th to you!