What the Truth Sounds Like- Part I: From past to present with Civil Rights icon Andrew Young

What Truth Sounds Like
Civil rights icon Andrew Young was a keynote speaker for What the Truth Sounds Like – The Dallas Examiner screenshot/Texas A&M University-Commerce College video

 

By DIANE XAVIER

The Dallas Examiner

 

The deaths of African Americans like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by White police officers resulted in a national outcry over racism and discussions about racial inequality all over the country.

In an effort to tackle these issues and topics, Texas A&M University-Commerce College of Education and Human Services hosted a Sept. 24 virtual symposium called What the Truth Sounds Like. The event featured speakers who discussed topics such as systemic racism, trauma in the African American community and the national call for equity.

The symposium was led by Dr. Kimberly McLeod, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, who discussed how to combat systemic racism.

“When we look at racial injustice in and ethnicities within the African American communities, it’s easy to place blame and point fingers on systems of people that are external from us,” McLeod said. “It’s easy to say from a lens of comfort and convenience; ‘They put themselves in that position,’ or ‘If it was me, this is what I would do, it is simple.’ ‘Why can’t they pull themselves up like my family did?’

“It’s easy to blame the African American mother or father or grandparents for broken homes. Pointing blame is easy and accepting that things can’t change because that is just how things are, so we accept the status quo. This symposium is not an answer. This symposium is a song, it is what the truth sounds like for African Americans. It is a song that tells a story of a collective society so that keys can be created to unlock hate.”

Civil rights icon Andrew Young, former ambassador to the United Nations and former Atlanta mayor, was a keynote speaker for the event.

Young presented his talk first revealing how he overcame tough times throughout his life.

“This has been a very difficult time for all of our lives because for the first time in my 88 years – and I have been through the Depression, I’ve been through World War II, and the early days of the recovery and Civil Rights Movements of the ‘50s and ‘60s – and those were not easy times but they were easy for me in part because I was prepared for them,” Young said.

Young grew up in New Orleans in a diverse community.

“The neighborhood in which I was raised happened to be a working-class neighborhood that forgot to get segregated,” he said. “On one corner there was an Irish grocery store and the other corner there was an Italian bar and the third corner they had quarters of the Nazi party. I lived right in the middle. There were other Black families and they had children my age, and so I had to deal with the problems of being different even before I went to kindergarten.”

The year was 1936 and Young’s father taught him at an early age about the ills of racism.

“It was 1936, there was no air conditioning and the windows were open and we can see into the Nazi rally party,” he said. “My father explained to me these were white supremacists and white supremacy is a sickness and you have learned at Sunday school and at home that God created one blood all the nations in the earth and that is the truth we believe in.”

Young’s father also took him to see the 1936 Olympic games in a theatre that was segregated at the time.

“And watching Jesse Owens win the 100-meter dash and become christened the world’s fastest human and this didn’t go well with Hitler’s white supremacy,” he recalled. “And so rather than give him his medal he and his stormtroopers marched out of the stadium. My father said that normally people might get upset, by being ignored that way that people might get upset, but Jesse Owens didn’t pay any attention. He won three more gold medals and won and said that’s the way you have to deal with white supremacy. He said you don’t argue with them, you just demonstrate if given a chance to compete with anybody and anywhere the worst thing you can do is to get angry.”

He said it is important not to get mad but to get smart when faced with challenges.

“The one thing you remember all your life is don’t get mad, get smart,” Young said. “Mad in any kind of struggle or any kind of fight you’ll find that you are more than likely to lose. That has been my approach to not only racial difficulties but all kinds of difficulties because I learn that almost everybody has some kind of problem with anybody who is different. It is something that I think every culture has to deal with. Now, Americans have tried to deal with it with a Constitution that protects the rights of all of our citizens, but most countries don’t do that.”

Young said the United States is facing many challenges today.

“Our country is right now being put to the test because we have such diversity and such conflict that we have a pandemic, a health pandemic going on with the coronavirus. We have a climate challenge where fires in California, the hurricanes raging in the Gulf, and whether you want it or not or whether you admit it or not, there is a climate change, there is a health challenge there is also an economic challenge and on top of all of this or because of all of this there is a technical challenge. I don’t know whether you realize how much of a revolution it is that when I was the mayor of Atlanta we had four stories and four halls of city hall that had mainframe computers that were about 8 feet tall and four feet square to take care of Atlanta city’s government.

“Now, I have in one little cell phone much technical capacity in this one little thing. We are in the midst of another technical revolution where artificial intelligence is going to be paneling a lot of things we had to worry about and think about. The technical problems that are pounding our society are making everybody insecure. The jobs are not being taken overseas. The jobs are being transformed from human hands to machines and they really just have no discs anymore. What we are doing is reorienting an entire society now that makes everybody insecure and they want to blame somebody. So they blame the immigrants or they blame the Black folks and tall people in Rwanda. The tall people and short people have civil wars. They were all Blacks, and all spoke the same language and had the same heritage. One hundred years ago someone decided short people and tall people need to be separated. Short people married short people and tall people married tall people. And we had a genocide in Rwanda where over a million people were killed and nobody was quite sure why and how it happened. That is the effect of rapid social change that we are living through in this day and age and time.”

Young said race relations are going through the same changes.

“And so, when we look at race, let’s just don’t make it a me and you problem,” he said. “It really is part of the rapid social change in an extremely complex society. So instead of being afraid of the problems of climate change or the problems of a pandemic or the problems of the economy that is in disarray or the problems of law enforcement, we got to find a way to embrace these problems and accept them as challenges.”

He said he believes diversity should be embraced.

“Georgia State has about 188 different nationalities in its student body,” Young said. “I guarantee you have a 100 at Texas A&M. These are people from the past two generations from parents who came from somewhere else. I have learned in Atlanta that a rich mixture of creativity and talent is what has made our city grow. And by embracing it and by celebrating the differences and appreciating the different cultural points of view that are brought in business is growing, culture is growing, sports is growing better, and it is so much better than the old fashioned segregated South that I grew up in.”

Young said the world will continue to operate and grow despite its challenges.

“Now we are looking at a global reality,” he said. “We have a globe that goes around and around, it never stops. That is the way the earth is on which we live. We have some people in power who want to stop the earth from turning, who wants to reverse and go back to an old time when things were different. It cannot be done. And the world is going to continue to turn and the inventors of technology are going to continue to invent. When I was growing up, we went to Sears/Roebuck catalog … Sears went to the suburbs and forgot poor people. And low and behold, here comes computers and Amazon taking over the whole thing and all of our shopping malls are doing a little different. So we are going to have to reinvent the way we shop.

Young went on to discuss changes in world travels. In looking at the 107 million people that entered the country through his local airport alone, he discussed the new viruses, diseases and health challenges that travel would bring to the United States. He encouraged the audience not to fear the change but see them as a challenge that would bring new opportunities. He also encouraged people to hold on to their faith in their religious values, the brain power those handling the crisis and the Constitution –  which he acknowledge the country does not fully live up to – and work together to for a positive change.

Moreover, Young said he trusts in God to make a way to overcome challenges.

“In spite of all the troubles, I always found that the Lord will make a way out of no way,” he said. “And it’s only when the way gets dark, that we are begging to see a new light in the distance. I am waiting for that light. In the meantime, we have to seek it in ourselves and our neighbors, in our friends, and we have to vote for the light, vote for the future, we have to vote because that is the way you translate ideas into reality in a democracy such as ours.”

 

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