by Amanda Hu
(December 7, 2003) “Andy has made history, and makes history, “ said Frank Ferrari, a member of the Human Rights Commission who was instrumental in bringing his close friend Andrew Young to Mamaroneck’s McClain Auditorium on Thursday, December 4. Ambassador Young’s talk was billed as “Why Me? Human Rights Issues and Today’s Youth,” but he addressed both the young people and the adults in the audience on a wide range of topics, all of which tied back to his definition of human rights as the “quality of life that we would wish for ourselves.”
After thanking his good friend Frank Ferrari for sharing his spiritual views and helping him cope with the death of his wife, Young veered off on a lighter note. He got a chuckle from the audience when he suggested, “None of my teachers would have imagined me as an ambassador.” But those qualities that hindered him in school, like difficulty focusing on one thing, he thought might be a great help now.
Clearly, Young has not stayed focus on only one thing or one job during his lifetime. So far, he’s been a minister, a civil rights leader who marched with Martin Luther King, a U.S. congressman, the Ambassador to the United Nations, the Mayor of Atlanta, an author, and a businessman. He brought many of these experiences to his conversation at MHS.
He talked to the audience about the challenge of poverty on a local and global scale that threatens to undermine the human rights advances that have been made. He went on to discuss the basic human right to good health that includes clean water to prevent disease. He mentioned 1980 when he was the Mayor of Atlanta and that city was chosen to host the Olympics. “I was embarrassed because we raised two and a half billion dollars privately for fun.” Why couldn’t they have raised the money for the public good, he asked.
He also talked about honesty, greed and business. Young mentioned how in industry, honesty, value and hard work are important and how he has seen these traits in minorities. He also spoke of the beauty of Africa and how it is growing.
He ended by saying, “I see the world not as it is, but what it’s becoming,” as the audience gave him a standing ovation.
Ambassador Young then entertained questions from the audience. The last question was from Mamaroneck Principal Dr. Mark Orfinger who asked: What is your advice for pursuing human rights? Young responded: learn in school, take advantage of technology. Technology allows one to get so much more information then before.
Another strategy is negotiation. Ever since he was a small boy, instead of staying to fight, Young learned to negotiate to get himself out of sticky situations. His final words were: learn as much as you can.
Mamaroneck High sophomore Walter Abeson, found Ambassador’s talk informative and thought-provoking. “It touched upon many topics that aren’t usually talked about,” he remarked. “He spoke from the heart to adults and young people about his experiences and vision of the world,” said Maryann Halbwachs, who was so looking forward to the event she’d arrived an hour early to get a good seat. “It renewed my batteries for humanitarian works,” said Halbwachs who volunteers with the Red Cross.
“It was a wonderful exchange,” said Commissioner Frank Ferrari who was speaking of both the evening talk and an earlier round table discussion between Ambassador Young and twelve MHS students. “From the interests of the students and Young’s genuine humanity – it was a perfect fit,” Ferrari said.
“He was so knowledgeable about such a wide variety of issues,” said Robert Cross, an MHS freshman who participated in the round table. “What impressed me the most was how optimitistic he was. With all the problems he’s seen as a leader in civil rights and as Ambassador to the UN, he still remains optimistic that things can and will change for the better.”
Robin Nichinsky, Chairperson of the Tri-Municipal Human Rights Commission was most taken with Young’s strategy for conflict reduction. “You have three choices: you can run, you can fight or you can negotiate. And he prefers to negotiate,” she summarized. “Our mission is to reduce strife in our community – and that message rings true to me. The world would be a lot better off if we followed Young’s advice,” she said.
Amanda Hu is a sophomore at Mamaroneck High School and an intern with the Larchmont Gazette. This article was written with additional reporting by Judy Silberstein.