Pastor. Dr. Martin Luther King comrade. Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). U.S. Congressman representing Georgia. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Mayor of Atlanta. Pivotal broker for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
There aren’t many hats Andrew Young has not worn throughout his 85 years of life. As a soldier on the front lines of battle during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the New Orleans native was a front-row participant in one of the greatest social upheavals of the 20th century and a living example of what leadership looks like.
Saturday, June 3, Young’s leadership was on prime display at the 2017 Andrew J. Young International Leadership Awards and 85th Birthday Tribute. Held at Philips Arena with “black-ish” star Anthony Anderson serving as the night’s host, the star-studded affair brought out luminaries in a wide spectrum of fields, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Performers included Estelle, Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Wyclef Jean, Keith David of “Greenleaf” and top Nigerian artist Davido, among others. CNN commentator and activist Van Jones, recording artist and humanitarian Akon, educator Ron Clark, the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington (social justice activists Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour), financial literacy activist and Operation Hope founder John Hope Bryant and the former vice-president of the United States Joseph Biden were distinguished honorees.
Biden and Akon, recipients of the Chairman’s Award and the International Humanitarian Initiatives Award, respectively, were not present but sent video-taped messages thanking Young for the honor. Akon, who was recognized for his mission to deliver electricity to 600 million Africans, among other endeavors, was represented live by his brother, mother, father and sister. Bu Thiam, Akon’s brother, spoke of how giving back to their parents’ native continent has been a way of life for them since they were kids.
Biden reflected on Young’s impact in this country during the civil rights movement and how it inspired him. He also noted Young’s personal kindness to him when they both served in Congress, Young as a congressman and Biden as a senator.
Bryant was very impassioned while urging the crowd not to take Young for granted and sharing how philanthropic the civil rights icon truly is, often writing checks of $25,000 as well as donating his entire honorarium back to the organizations that invited him to speak.
Jones spoke of Young’s impact on his own life. Mallory, one of the Women’s March co-chairs, spoke of living up to the honor and “building a movement,” not just a march. Clark, who kicked off the awards, was a ball of energy and reflected on how Young spent time with him, offering him much welcomed advice, long before he became a renowned educator. With many of his students in the audience, Clark also addressed educating Black children by instilling pride in them about their heritage.
Wyclef Jean closed out the evening, eventually bringing Young to the stage. Young’s wife, Carolyn, Usher, Chris Tucker, Jones and many others also were onstage, partying to Frankie Beverly and Maze’s forever classic “Before I Let Go” and a few others.
Backstage, as he waited to head home, Young, whose actual birthday is March 12, said he was pleased to have so many young people in the audience. He was also pleased with the presentation of the video narrative of his life that anchored the event.
“It was really special,” Young said, pointing out how that video narrative even awakened some memories for him.
“A lot of that I had forgotten,” he admitted. “They did a very good job of collecting archival footage.”