As an 8-year-old boy in the second grade, Kabir Sehgal, called Andrew Young, then mayor of Atlanta, and requested an interview for his elementary school newspaper.
The mayor agreed goodnaturedly and the relationship has deepened over the years through a series of conversations culminating in the book, “Walk in My Shoes, Conversations Between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson on the Journey Ahead.”
Mr. Young, now co-chairman of an international business consulting firm, and Mr. Sehgal, now an investment banker in New York, participated in an inter-generational dialogue that they have continued on a national tour since the book was published earlier this year.
While an ardent admirer of Mr. Young as a friend, mentor and godfather, Mr. Sehgal is nevertheless a persistent questioner. The book makes clear that their relationship is solidly based on conversations ranging from the most philosophical such as the search for personal identity to practical advice for living.
Mr. Sehgal is anxious to learn from Mr. Young about his career as a preacher, civil rights leader, diplomat, politician and business consultant, and Mr. Young obliges by sharing in depth his experiences and reflections.
In response to questions from GlobalAtlanta, Mr. Sehgal provides an overview of the book tour to date. The dialogue is to continue on Monday, Nov.1, at the Carter Center beginning at 6 p.m. Attendance is free of charge and open to the public. Ted Turner is hosting a book signing celebration following the lecture. Cost of admission for the book signing, including a copy of the book, is $25.
Meanwhile, Mr. Young, as chair of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, is hosting the Africa Policy Forum in Atlanta Sept. 24-28. The current president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, and other current and former African heads of state are scheduled to attend.
GlobalAtlanta: Please describe the book tour and what you’ve learned from doing that
Mr. Sehgal: The book tour has been, like the book, a series of debates between Andy and me. No matter the audience or the forum, we’ve tried to simulate the conversations in the book. But each event is different. At the Council of Foreign Relations, Andy spent much time discussing his time at the United Nations and the foreign policy issues confronting Obama, namely Afghanistan. At the National Press Club, we both advocated economics and financial services as laudable professions for young people, especially because there were several university students in attendance. At the Paley Center (for Media), a recognized media museum, we touched upon how the press could shine a better light on Africa. One thing is constant in all our conversations: we disagree respectfully with each other, which is a central theme of the book. It is okay to disagree, in fact, Uncle Andy encourages me to disagree because that’s how we form our own opinions. But we must do it in a respectful and collegiate manner. The book tour has helped me gird my opinions as I’ve had to field challenging questions and refine my answers.
GlobalAtlanta: What insights have you gained about Africa from Mr. Young?
Mr. Sehgal: I traveled to Nigeria earlier this year to examine investment opportunities. Before I boarded the plane to Lagos, Uncle Andy listed nine reasons why Nigeria was the future of the African continent. He wouldn’t let me get off the phone. Nigeria is a growth story: roughly 200 million people, an oil exporter, a young population, for example. Nigeria reminded me of India in the 1980s – rolling blackouts, insufficient power capacity. He sees the development of Africa as a personal project. He thinks tourism is one of the best ways to attract capital to Africa. He’s examining the prospect of building a West Coast highway that would link West African highways with a toll road. He understands that Africa is the final frontier of economic growth. While the twenty-first century may belong to Asia, he believes Africa will stand to benefit from increasing trade flow between Asia and Africa. Africa must enter the global market place, and he’s doing everything in his power to make it happen.
GlobalAtlanta: What does Mr. Young say about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s economic views?
Mr. Sehgal: Dr. King spoke about not wanting to be a Good Samaritan, rather, he wanted to change the Jericho Road so that nobody would be beaten up in the first place. He wanted to create macroeconomic solution to the civil rights movement. More jobs meant more economic opportunity for African Americans. You know the old saying, teach someone to fish and they never go hungry again. Certainly today Americans are concerned about the economic climate, in particular, the rise of unemployment. Andy recognizes the softness in the economy but doesn’t think the answer is to revert to protectionism. You really can’t buck globalization. You can, however, try to create what he calls, humanitarian capitalism – an economic system in which we all benefit, where there is less inequality. How can we create public-private partnerships to help grow us out of economic malaise? Perhaps a fast speed rail infrastructure project? Andy thinks the energy resources in New Orleans could be monetized to create an organization like the Tennessee Valley Authority, but for the states that were affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
GlobalAtlanta: What do you think Mr. Young’s contribution has been to Atlanta?
Mr. Sehgal: Andy says about President Carter that it will take us fifty years to understand his presidency because he was ahead of his times. Carter advocated energy conservation and concentrated on the Middle East Peace crisis. I think you could say the same about Uncle Andy and his contributions in general, but if we narrowed our focus to Atlanta, one must highlight the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. Sure, there was a group of citizens who banded together to pursue the games. Uncle Andy didn’t discourage them, and more importantly, he didn’t try to take credit for their idea. The idea to pursue the Olympics wasn’t dreamed up in City Hall. Andy listened to “his people,” the people he represented, and got behind them. Gandhi said that a leader follows his people. Andy indeed worked diligently to secure the games, but he shared the credit and in so doing, put Atlanta on the map. When I travel the world it’s the first thing people tell me: Atlanta – you had the Olympics, right? You’re darn right we did! And we financed it in a sensible way and didn’t run up massive debts.