Civil Rights leader Andrew Young: Racism, poverty & racial equity

Aug 11, 2017
Originally published on August 11, 2017 9:27 am

Buffalo State College welcomed long-time Civil Rights leader Andrew Young Jr. to their campus Thursday evening.  Young is a former U.S. Congressman and United Nations ambassador. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley had a chance to meet with Young at The Mansion on Delaware in Buffalo to discuss his views on racism, racial equity and poverty.  


"Well we've always been divided and I would content that it's not racism that's dividing us,” Young replied.

Young, who turned 85 this past June, has witnessed many decades of racism, conflict and the fight for civil rights and social justice.  

Young worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960's through the Civil Rights Movement.

“Dr. King divided our problems into three-fold – he said we are trying to redeem the soul of American from three evils; racism, war and poverty, and I think we’ve gone a long way toward ending legal racism,” Young responded.


Young points problems with to racism through poverty and economics.

“Poverty is also a result of a kind of a chronic sickness in the society and we’re going to cure it when we realize its economic roots – that it’s really much more intelligent, and decent and moral and inexpensive to education people then it is to incarcerate them and the irony of it is – take the health care bill – there are probably ten times as many white people that need health insurance as there are as black people, and yet because they call it Obamacare the senate things of it as being for black people,” explained Young. 

Racial Equity

Young also responded to our question about creating racial equity in schools and workplaces. 

“I have never wanted to be just equal to white people,” Young chuckled. “I mean this is not a racial argument – I have this argument with my son. He gets very, very angry with me because he said ‘you’ve been around money all your life and you’re still broke, and you choose to disrespect money’ and he said ‘you gave us the worst of both worlds – we got fame, but no fortune.’ It was important for me not to be distracted by trying to get myself rich,” Young said. 

Young was fair in his response to his thoughts on President Donald Trump.  

“I think that he’s a victim of the same thing we are – that nobody understands the world we are in right now and his instinct is to fight and that’s the way he’s done all is life. You can’t bully people when everybody’s got an atomic bomb – it’s calling us to think things through,” Young remarked.

Advice to disadvantaged youth

While at Buffalo State Thursday evening Young received the 2017 Hal Payne Education Opportunity Lifetime Service Award. Young spoke to about 90-Buffalo Public high school students who just completed the Upward Bound program for disadvantaged. Young said he always tells youth the advice his father game him.

“Well I tell them the same thing my daddy told me 80-years ago in New Orleans, Louisiana where it was a whole lot worse than it is now and what he said to me was don’t get made, when you lose your temper in a fight – don’t get mad – get smart and use your mind and you have to think your way through things and don’t get emotional because when you get emotional and angry, the blood runs from your head to your feet  and your fists – you’re not going to win every fight, but you can thing your way through any fight,” Young recalled. “That’s the way we had to survive in the south, and of course, now people think they have rights – we knew we did not have any rights.” 

Remember MLK

Most powerful in my conversation with Young was his reflection of being right next to Dr. King when he was assassinated by a bullet in April of 1968.  

“And he went upstairs to put on his coat to go out to dinner – that a bullet penetrated his neck and that it severed his spinal cord and he probably never heard it or felt it,” recalled Young.

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