By Seth Coleman
Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta Andrew Young, is the epitome of a man: smart, confident, stately, and thoughtful. His late first wife, Jean Childs Young was the embodiment of a lady: intelligent, beautiful, elegant, and kindhearted.
Now, administrators and community partners at the school named in her honor hope to establish a new mentoring program that will lead more students to carry themselves in a manner befitting the Youngs.
“We want them to know there is an important legacy here, and to know what that means,” said Gwen Atkinson, a retired Atlanta Public School principal working with Young Middle School’s new principal, Kevin Scott. “We want them to know their school has a history that they should feel good about and strive to uphold.”
Recently, the southwest Atlanta school honored the memory of Mrs. Young with its annual Jean Childs Young Day celebration. The event featured performances by the Young Middle School orchestra and bella voce, a video presentation about Mrs. Young, and remarks by her children – Andrea Young, Professor of Practice at the Georgia State University Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, and Andrew “Bo” Young, III, chief executive officer of PakLab.
But the showstopper was the former mayor and ambassador. Though he will turn 84-years old next month, Mr. Young, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, commanded the room of middle schoolers.
“The first thing he told them was to sit up in their chairs and pay attention, and they did,” Scott said. “The students were totally engaged in what he had to say.”
Mr. Young’s message of self-respect and non-violent means of conflict resolution was one the students needed to hear, Scott said.
“He told them that as the U.N. Ambassador, he represented the biggest, badest bully in the world,” Scott said. “But he told them his goal was to always come to peaceful agreements. He wanted them to know and understand that there are better ways to resolve conflicts than fighting.”
Scott, who became principal at the start of the second semester, said he hopes to launch the mentoring program later this spring. He is being assisted by the Andrew Young Foundation, the Camellia Rose Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, and nearby Mount Vernon Baptist Church, among other organizations.
“We want the program to be large-scale,” Scott said. “We just don’t want a few men and women to come over from time to time to work with a large group of students. We want all of our students to have a mentor, so we can establish those one-one-one relationships. That’s important.”
Mrs. Young was a former educator and administrator in Atlanta Public Schools and founder of the APS Dream Jamboree, a large-scale college fair for middle and high school students that has grown over the past 25 years into one of the largest such events in the nation. Her work with children and her own efforts as a part of the Civil Rights Movement, made sure she was never overshadowed by her husband of 40 years.
Mrs. Young passed away in 1994, but her legacy of academic achievement and compassion lives on. Scott wants to instill that legacy in his female students, while his male students are molded in the image of Mr. Young.
“I was so proud of our students,” Scott said. “They were involved and engaged in the program. I think it was very enlightening to them and showed them the history they represent. It showed them that they can do it. They can be successful, no matter where they come from, and our new mentoring program will help us continue reinforcing those positive messages to them.”