Andrew Young to college students: Find meaning by helping others


  • A mural honoring Evelyn Gibson Lowery, the late wife of the Rev. Joseph Lowery, will be unveiled at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 28 at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Bell Street.
  • “Grounded in History — Soaring Into the Future,” a fundraiser for the Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute, will highlight 50 student “change agents” and honor the Rev. Joseph Lowery on his 94th birthday. 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6. Delta Flight Museum, 1060 Delta Blvd., Atlanta. Tickets: $100.

Audtrell Williams knows the world is bigger than him. Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young reminded him and other high-flying college students of that this week when he talked about something he has done for 60-plus years: servant leadership.

Young held court for more than an hour Wednesday night with 50 college students in the Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute, a nonprofit organization that gives grants and training to Atlanta University Center students who in turn mentor younger students. Servant leadership, he said, means answering God’s call to help others and putting your own needs aside.

The institute serves students in an Atlanta alternative school as well as students in local elementary schools, said Cheryl Lowery, the daughter of the Rev. Joseph Lowery and the late Evelyn Lowery, longtime civil rights activists. The institute is training college students to act as “change agents” on their campuses and beyond to improve their communities. Four days a week, the students have lunch with their mentees in their schools. The students are also encouraged to establish community programs the institute may fund with grants.

Young’s message about serving others resonated deeply with Williams, a 20-year-old Morehouse College junior from Los Angeles who was but a glint in his father’s eye when Young was working in the civil rights movement with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I just heard Ambassador Andrew Young say that everybody needs to be boosted up,” said Williams, a marketing major and founder of a social networking site called Alumbuddy, which connects college students with alumni from their respective schools. “If everybody fulfills the crown over their head, then my life has purpose.”

The students listened closely as Young talked about the many jobs he has held in his life — Atlanta mayor, congressman, ambassador and activist — none of them planned.

Young said his parents were furious with him when he got involved in the civil rights movement. The family was a part of New Orleans’ elite class, and his father, a dentist, wanted his son to take up the family business.

“All their friends were calling them from Montgomery and Tuskegee saying, ‘Why did you let your son get involved with those trifling preachers? They ain’t never gonna amount to anything,’ ” Young recalled. “(Servant leadership) never looks like it’s successful until it’s successful. So don’t try to calculate your risks and your rewards.”

The man who helped lead Atlanta’s charge to capture the 1996 Olympic Games cautioned students against chasing money and prestige, especially when it means compromising your beliefs. And he urged them to be open to the possibilities life brings, often unexpectedly.

Young graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in biology and earned his divinity degree from Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut. He served as a senior pastor in Thomasville, Ga., and later went to work for the National Council of Churches in New York.

Young’s civil rights work began at the urging of his wife, the late Jean Young. She believed the couple should return to the South. Young began working for King in Alabama, primarily answering his mail. In the beginning, said Young, King did not appear to be destined for greatness, noting with a laugh that King received a C in speech while at Morehouse.

“From all of the things you read, it sounds like I have been quite successful. But there’s not one thing that I have done that I knew I was going to do the day before I got into it,” Young said. “I mean I did not want to run for Congress. I did not want to go to work for Martin Luther King. I was trying my best to stay away from all these egotistical Baptist preachers. … That’s one of the reasons why Rev. Lowery and I got to be so close, we were the only two that weren’t Baptist.

“Looking back on it now, what better opportunity in life than to be an assistant or flunky for Martin Luther King?”

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