Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young discussed race, politics and what it means to be “ultimately human” during a public conversation with Emory’s Schwartz Artist-in-Residence Ross Rossin on March 27.
Approximately 800 community members attended the event, titled “Ultimately Human,” at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.
Young and Rossin discussed how topics such as race and spirituality work to define the idea of being “ultimately human.”
When Rossin asked Young if it was time to forget the idea of race, Young responded with uncertainty.
“I don’t know,” Young said. “The difference is real, and I don’t think we can forget it or overlook it, but I think we can come to appreciate it.”
As Young encouraged the audience to embrace differences among races, he made several references to Martin Luther King Jr., whom he considers a close friend. Young worked closely with King during his time as a civil rights leader and politician. He served as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which King was the first president. Young also drafted legislation for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was present when King was assassinated in 1968.
“Dr. King’s metaphor was a symphony — a symphony of brotherhood,” Young said. “The diversity of race and culture and history is part of the richness of our tapestry.”
Rossin and Young both recounted times they spent with civil rights activists like Maya Angelou and Desmond Tutu. Rossin asserted that they are ordinary people, but they had extraordinary ideas.
“We’re all ordinary. We’re all mortals,” Rossin said. “Our time here on Earth is limited, but what makes us different is the ideas and the reason for life — the ideas worth dying for.”
Preceding the talk, Young discussed his political experiences and involvement with Emory as Atlanta mayor in an interview with the Wheel.
When asked about Emory’s annexation into the city of Atlanta, Young said he thought the move was inevitable.
“It makes a reality what everybody’s already known,” Young said. “I always figured Emory was a part of the city of Atlanta.”
Young encouraged students to be active in politics.
“In any society, the brightest and the best should have a little more vision and a little more courage to influence at least the direction of society,” Young told the Wheel.
Young also related the experience in politics with one’s sense of spirituality, stating students should not be afraid to take risks.
“We think we are physical beings having a few spiritual experiences, when actually the human reality is that we are spiritual beings and these are just a few physical phenomena that we have to deal with,” Young said. “But ultimately all of us are caught up in a universal spirituality. So, believe in it. You will not die; you will live forever. You have nothing to be afraid of.”
At the conclusion of the program, Stephens and Johnson had the audience participate in an interactive improvised music and poetry piece. About five students were asked to write down a word that summarized how they felt about the event. The students stood in front of the audience as Stephens and Johnson worked together to create a unique piece based off of words such as “resolve,” “tension” and “redemption.”
Emmanuel Wooten (19C) attended the event and participated in the interactive ending art piece.
“In this time of tension and adversity, not just nationally but globally, but even personally for me, I find it so revolutionary and very uncannily timely to have been a part of such an event,” Wooten said.
Jasper Akin (21C) echoed Wooten’s sentiments.
“It sort of opened my eyes to something I don’t really think about in my daily life,” he said. “It’s something I’ll always remember participating in.”
Young summed up his feelings about the meaning of being “ultimately human,” by referring back to his spirituality.
“That’s where we find our ultimate humanity … in our willingness to embrace our spirituality,” he said.