Former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young said the civil rights movement changed America and the world.
“We have made enormous progress,” Young, who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., told a packed auditorium at Burns & McDonnell. “Racism is no longer legal anywhere.”
The civil rights movement made people sensitive to women’s rights, the rights of other minority groups, and gays and lesbians. But a lot of work remains.
Although the laws have changed, “the customs have changed much slower,” said Young, a former mayor of Atlanta and congressman from Georgia’s 5th District. He spoke Monday at the south Kansas City engineering firm as Kansas City begins a weeklong celebration for the national holiday for King’s birthday on Jan. 20.
The opening of American society also coincides with the economy becoming more global, Young said. Businesses like Burns & McDonnell have to compete in that global marketplace, anticipating trends and needs 40 to 50 years in the future. But they also must have a diverse workforce to meet the demands of the world’s diverse population.
“You can’t look at it as a moral problem,” Young said. “It’s a business problem.
“A business has to represent its market. The days of a market being all of one anything are over.”
Young, who is in his 80s now, spoke of the civil rights movement and how he, King and many other leaders were young people then who coincidentally had trained for the moment history presented. “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous,” said Young, who also was a pastor. He talked of the bus boycotts, the bombings and the arrests that people in the movement endured.
Poverty was a problem that King had planned to tackle, too, but King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis. Poverty remains a nagging problem today.
The disparity of wealth hurts the poor but more people in the middle class are being dragged into poverty, too.
“If you’ve got to work for money, you’re catching hell,” Young said. “It’s not a racial problem anymore. It’s a problem of economic stability.”
Young, who also knew former South African President Nelson Mandela, characterized him as “the most disciplined human being I have ever met.” Mandela knew people of all colors and tribes had to work together.
Asked about education, Young said it is still the answer to combat violence and ignorance. It worked for him, King and Mandela.