Cultural understanding and mutual respect are key to fixing not only the health crisis of the day, but also the persistent conflicts that scar today’s world, Ambassador Andrew Young said Wednesday.
Speaking to youth globally on a call organized by an affiliate of the United Nations in the Southeast, the former Atlanta mayor and Georgia congressman said the “four pandemics” — COVID-19, economic collapse, climate change and racial enmity — could only be healed by global citizens who understand how to see embrace their common humanity.
As ambassador, he recalled forging ties over food with the Chinese delegation at the United Nations and watching former President Jimmy Carter find common ground between Israel and Egypt.
But he’d learned the lesson before, particularly when visiting Martin Luther King Jr. in jail in Albany, Ga., during the civil rights movement.
A guard had thrown a racial slur at Mr. Young when he entered the jail, but he chose to wear his adversary down, forging a common bond over football that helped the guard see his humanity — and enabled frequent visits to Dr. King.
“People I’ve had trouble with, who normally most people would consider racist, I got along with because I didn’t think of them as racist. I tried to find something else about them I liked,” he said.
It’s that sense of respect (he spelled out the Aretha Franklin song R-E-S-P-E-C-T) that will drive both interpersonal and societal reconciliation, he said, aiming to imbue especially his younger listeners with a sense of optimism about what they can do to change the world with kindness and courage.
The conversation, titled “What a Wonderful World” in homage to one of Mr. Young’s favorite songs, was part of a series of dialogues the United Nations is facilitating to gain perspectives about improving global collaboration during the year of its 75th anniversary.