The Emory University 40th annual Jimmy Carter Town Hall featured former Atlanta Mayor and United Nations (U.N.) Ambassador Andrew Young as its keynote speaker on Dec. 2. 

Like last year’s town hall, Carter, who is 97, did not make an appearance, the first time he was absent since the town hall’s inception. 

Young was a pastor in Alabama prior to becoming interested in nonviolent protest. In addition to serving as the 55th mayor of Atlanta and the first African American ambassador to the U.N. appointed by President Carter, Young served in the U.S. House of Representatives and was a close confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Andrew Young/Courtesy of Emory Photo

Young recalled that when he was being sworn in as the ambassador to the U.N., Carter passed him a note.

“I want you to meet as many African leaders as possible and ask them what they expect of this administration, and how we might help them,” Young said.

Young commented on how unusual it was for a president to ask another nation what they need from us, rather than setting an agenda.

Prior to Young’s address, University President Gregory Fenves introduced Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter, a former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, in remarks speaking about the importance of the event.

“For decades, this iconic Emory tradition has enabled first year students to engage in spirited conversation with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter,” Fenves said. 

After Fenves’s quick remarks, Jason Carter spoke about the Carter Foundation and his grandfather, saying, ““He’s just like everybody else’s grandparents.”

He emphasized how much the former president revered his time as a professor at Emory, recalling a time when he and Carter were on their way back into the country.

“He had to fill out one of the customs forms… and it said ‘occupation,’ and he put ‘professor,’” Carter said.

Student Government Association President Rachel Ding (20Ox, 22B) introduced Young and spoke about how inspiring his civil rights work in Alabama is for her, as a Birmingham resident.

“It makes me incredibly proud that Andrew Young also came up as a pastor and a prominent civil rights leader during his work in Alabama, because my family and I have directly benefited from that work,” Ding said

Once the Q&A began, one student asked how Young’s background in theology aided his ability to serve in public office.

“My background in theology has been the basis of my service,” Young said.

He told a story about how he had to read the Bible and the newspaper to his blind grandmother, and how that informed his perspective.

He described how he thought of the U.N., Congress and his mayoral constituents as his congregation.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a pastor,” Young said.

Asked to share any anecdotes from his time working with King, Young said he knew him between the ages of 29 and 39. He recalled listening to King’s first speech at age 25 for the Montgomery bus boycott.

Young detailed how in that speech, King “defined the movement that he led for the next ten years.”

Speaking of him spiritually, Young believes King “is more alive today on this planet than he was in the sixties.”

When asked what his first move would be if he was elected mayor in 2021, Young said he would do the same thing he did when he was elected in 1981. He recounted how he called up all the major CEOs in Atlanta and asked them to share what they wanted from his administration.

“I need you to tell me what you need me to do,” Young said, speaking of how he addressed CEOs like Roberto Goizueta of the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. Young said he wanted support from both white and Black constituents, noting that he didn’t want a “divided city.”

Young maintained connections with people in every neighborhood and encouraged them to call his office.

“People had no problem giving me a piece of their mind,” Young said. 

Young cited former President Ronald Reagan’s administration for the limited flow of money into Atlanta and explained that as ambassador, he looked beyond the United States to Japan, Holland and Germany for funding.

“You cannot survive in the 20th century just looking at your own neighborhood,” Young said. His administration practiced what they called “public purpose capitalism,” where they got a consensus on the public need, then went elsewhere for funding.

When asked about how he thinks the effectiveness of the U.N. has changed since he left, he said he doesn’t think it has, saying, “We haven’t had a war recently.”

He commented on how the enforcement abilities of the organization were affected during the pandemic.

“Whenever the U.S. pulls its support from the global community, things drag,” Young said.

The final question addressed the best way for young people to influence policy making today.

“Let me be hard on you: don’t get mad, get smart,” Young said. “You’ll find that you have much more power using your mind than your fists and your feet.”.

In concluding remarks, he cited the late Georgia representative and civil rights icon John Lewis’ famous phrase “good trouble,” saying, “Getting into good trouble … you can’t make an omelet unless you crack some eggs.”