Andrea Young takes over ACLU Georgia: ‘A dream job for me’

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has a new leader with a familiar name.

Andrea Young — the daughter of civil rights leader and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, and educator and children’s rights advocate Jean Childs Young — has been named executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, taking the helm of the statewide affiliate at a crucial time.

“Andrea is an accomplished leader who has spent her career fighting to protect civil rights — from advancing the legacy of the civil rights movement at the Andrew J. Young Foundation to defending reproductive freedom at Planned Parenthood,” ACLU of Georgia Board President Gail Podolsky said. “As a lifelong civil rights activist and proven leader, Andrea is uniquely qualified to lead the ACLU of Georgia at this important time.”

The state affiliate of the ACLU has been in flux for two years.

Debbie Seagraves, executive director since 1998, retired in 2015.

Seagraves was replaced by Maya Dillard Smith. But last June, Smith resigned as head of the organization to protest the group's support for efforts to let transgender people use bathrooms that match their gender identity. Smith's departure left the organization virtually dormant.

On Friday, the affiliate hailed a Georgia Court of Appeals ruling that the state's name change statute applies equally to all people — a victory for the transgender community.

“This ruling is a victory for the transgender community – and for all Georgians,” Young said. “People who are transgender have the same right to choose their name as everyone else, and I’m proud that our affiliate was able to underscore to the court the basic constitutional rights at stake in this case.”

Young, who got her law degree from Georgetown University, was most recently an adjunct professor at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. She also was executive director at the Andrew J. Young Foundation and is the co-author of "Andrew Young and the Making of Modern Atlanta."

She worked as a legislative assistant to Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and chief of staff for the first woman to represent Georgia in Congress, Cynthia McKinney. She also held leadership positions for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, the National Black Child Development Institute and the Southern Education Foundation.

She sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for five questions.

1. How did you become interested in this position?

In some respects, the ACLU is a dream job for me, because it allows you to just do the right thing. Doing things that matter, standing on principle and fighting for people to have a voice. To do the things that are critical to defend our democracy. And help people fulfill the potential that we should all have, as Americans.

2. Considering who your parents are, is this a job you have been training for since birth?

My whole career has been based on trying to bring about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream — the beloved community. To bring about an America that fulfills the true meaning of its promise, that all people are created equal. All of my career has been about defending and extending civil and human rights.

3. What will be some of the issues here in Georgia that you will be looking at?

We have a tremendous heritage of being leaders in civil rights. At the same time, we have continuing challenges. We are concerned about criminal justice reform. The extent to which so many people are incarcerated and the reasons for which they are incarcerated. We are concerned about voter protection and issues around voter suppression. We want to protect and expand the franchise that people can exercise their right to vote freely and without complications and fear. We are concerned about protecting a woman’s right to choose. We have heard threats from Washington and our Legislature about de-funding Planned Parenthood. One in five women in America have access to health care through Planned Parenthood. We want to be in dialogue about promoting an anti-discrimination statute in Georgia that would of course include LGBT equality as well.

4. How will you be doing this? We’ve noticed that since you have been on board that the ACLU has been more active in at least speaking out on issues. Is there a concerted effort to be more visible?

This is a revitalized affiliate. That national ACLU is very invested in making sure that there are strong affiliates, so they are providing a lot of technical support. This is a very busy period because it is the beginning of a legislative session and the beginning of a presidency, so there is a lot of activity to talk about.

5. You mentioned the presidency. What do you see as your role over the next four years in that regard? Will there be challenges to civil liberties?

It will be more challenging, based on what (Donald Trump) said during the campaign. Based on what (Mike Pence) did as governor of Indiana. So based on what was promised in the campaign and what was done, those are things that we think infringe on civil rights and civil liberties.

So we are very concerned about Muslim Americans or Muslim immigrants and what kind of threats they face. We are concerned about women’s rights to choose. We are concerned about voter suppression. We are concerned with the record of Sen. Jeff Sessions. The ACLU took the extraordinary stance of testifying in his hearing. There are grave concerns based on his record as a prosecutor and his voting record as a senator. That he does not have a sensitivity to issues impacting people with disabilities, immigrants and people of color. It is not about him as a person, but what he has done in his roles to maintain the structure of institutional racism.

So we have a lot of work to do. It will be very busy.