Former U.N. ambassador and civil rights leader Andrew Young inspires at 80
By Lou Fancher Oakland Tribune Correspondence San Jose Mercury News
OAKLAND -- Former U.N. ambassador and civil rights leader Andrew Young brought the flame of Martin Luther King Jr.'s fire to downtown Oakland Saturday night for the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture series. It was part revival, part reunion and entirely a call to peaceful arms.
Sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center and Merritt College, the two-hour event drew more than 1,000 people and top Bay Area dignitaries to the Marriott City Center.
Former Oakland Mayor and state Assemblyman Elihu Harris said Young is "a person who epitomizes a life of service. Somewhere along his illustrious career, he lost his mind and ran for mayor (of Atlanta)."
Harris then called the violence on Oakland's streets "a crisis."
"I'm not talking about Occupy Oakland, I'm talking about 'Do Something Oakland.' We come to learn, Ambassador Young. We come to listen. We come to you."
Young, 80, wasted no time getting to work.
"On the battlefield of our time, it's always been about education," he insisted. "We cannot live on material things. People thought wearing labels meant success. We used to get Levi's for $2, now they cost $135! Materialism is not the answer."
Calling his theme, "I dream a world that works," Young showed his ministerial roots.
"Coincidence is God's way of staying anonymous. When I see things that don't seem to go together, and then they seem to fit, I look to the hand of the Lord," he said.
An encounter with Thurgood Marshall as a 9-year old, his marriage to Carolyn McClain Young, his work with King and the dreams of slaves "who believed God would make a way out of nowhere," led Young to conclude, "We are building on a legacy of hope."
Marveling at the 381-day bus boycott sustained in Montgomery Ala., after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person in 1955, Young advised everyone to cease complaining, ignore statistics and find a way to believe.
"If it's the right thing to do, and you devote yourself to it, you can do it."
As mayor of Atlanta from 1982-90 and now as leader of the Andrew Young Foundation, Young said it was time to influence the world and solve problems without violence.
"We cannot be afraid of our own children. If we decided that it was worth (our) dying in order that our children will be free at the hands of white people, it might be worth confronting these young people and loving the hell out of them."
War won't create jobs, but forming coalitions between the black intellectual community and white business community will, he said.
"Take care of the politics. Get to the people who are hiding their money in tax havens. Guarantee a good return on their money. Define safe, profitable, secure and honest places to meet needs. We need executive leadership in the White House. Put the World Bank on it, put intelligent people on it. There's almost no problem we can't solve," he said.
Young pondered, "Why did God bring us here to suffer for 400 years? So we can get strong enough to save the world. I don't believe he brought us this far, just to leave us."
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan were among the many in attendance.
The event opened with Gene Wade, CEO and founder of San Francisco's accredited online UniversityNow, who focused on the importance of community colleges.
"I want to stress community colleges today because we pay a lot of attention to Ivy League schools," he said. "In California, 70 percent of students attend community college. Sadly, because of budget cuts, nearly half a million people are on waiting lists."
Wade summed up the mission of the sponsoring MLK Freedom Center by quoting its director, Roy Wilson. "He said, 'Our goal is to insure that students become masters of their own destinies.'"
Proving Wade's words and Wilson's mission statement prophetic, students from the center entered, carrying placards and chanting a message of peace to the standing ovation greeting them.