By Joel Hall
Andrew Young, one of the key figures of the Civil Rights Movement, and a top aid to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told soldiers at Fort Gillem that diversity and teamwork are keys to meeting challenges currently facing the nation.
The former United Nations Ambassador, former U.S. Congressman and former Atlanta mayor, made the remarks at Monday as part of the First Army's Black History Month observance.
Young said the future of America, as well as the world, depends on our ability to embrace diversity. "Our history, in all of its times of trial, has always been able to pull together everybody, from all kinds of backgrounds," he said.
"Now, whenever we try to separate, and get too Democrat, or too Republican, too black, or too white, too rich, or too poor, things fall apart. This country," he said, "works best when we are in trouble, and we pull together as a team."
Young, from Louisiana, recalled the story of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, who defeated British forces in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Jackson was able to do so, Young said, by assembling a diverse army, consisting of Native Americans, and black and white soldiers from America, Europe, and the West Indies.
Sgt. 1st Class Stacy Hampton, equal opportunity advisor for the First Army, helped coordinate the event. She said the First Army strives to make its soldiers culturally aware, and Young is an example of someone who continues to help people understand their differences.
"Andrew Young has been marching for change for a long time," Hampton said. "I see him as the quiet thunder. We can read about it, but there is nothing like hearing it from somebody's own experience."
Maj. Gen. Thomas Robinson, deputy commander of the First Army, said having Young speak at the luncheon was good for the morale of soldiers.
"The Army exemplifies teamwork and people of diverse backgrounds working together towards a common goal," he said. "I liked it when he talked about the history ... how it was all connected. He's a real inspiration. I hope they [the soldiers] take away that they come from a great institution, and that we represent the United States of America anywhere we go."
The luncheon, entitled, "The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas," was also attended by students from Fountain Elementary School in Forest Park.
The Fountain Elementary choral group, composed of fifth-grade students, sang a number of songs with the aid of hand chimes. Chelsea Brown, the school's music teacher, said the luncheon was a positive experience for the students.
"It's positive for them, because a lot of times, when they read about people, it's just an idea," Brown said. "When they see him, they can say this is real. I hope they gain a sense of pride for who they are and how far we have come as a nation," she added.
"When I was growing up, for them to sing together like that, would have been illegal," said Young of the multi-racial group. "The teachers would have gone to jail, yet they're not even conscious of their differences, because they celebrate their unity together, and that's the message the world needs."