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Civil Rights Leader Andrew Young Shares Life Lessons With New Generation

December 14, 2010 at 4:50 PM EST
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Andrew Young, a top aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., and his godson/co-author Kabir Sehgal speak with Judy Woodruff about passing on life lessons and words of advice for a new generation, plus their new book "Walk in My Shoes."
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: a civil rights leader’s words for a new generation.

Judy Woodruff has our conversation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The book is “Walk in My Shoes: Conversations between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson on the Journey Ahead.”

Author Andrew Young has served as a top aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta. His co-author and God son, Kabir Sehgal, is an investment banker in New York.

Thank you both for being here.

KABIR SEHGAL, co-author, “Walk in My Shoes”: Thanks for having us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, your backgrounds are so different. I think there’s 50 years in age between you.

ANDREW YOUNG, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Exactly. So, what was it, Ambassador Young, that made it possible for these conversations between you to become a book?

ANDREW YOUNG: Well, one, the picture on the front of the book was him in second grade calling up the mayor’s office and asking to interview the mayor.

Well, I was fascinated by the idea. And we started talking. And I had known his family. And it just took off from there. But we have been talking back and forth since he was in second grade.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How easy is it for you, Kabir, to talk to your godfather?

KABIR SEHGAL: Very easy. It was tough at first. Now it’s actually become the first call on most of the problems in my life, whether it’s what’s happening up in the financial world or what’s going on in my personal life.

It’s really a great cross-generational, intergenerational conversation. We don’t always agree. We often disagree, but it’s pretty easy to…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that comes through. And there are so many things I would like to ask you about, but one that struck me was how important you say it is for young people, Ambassador Young, not to let their parents, the older generation, dictate what they do. So, I guess my question is, how do they know what to listen to and what not to listen to?

ANDREW YOUNG: Well, you don’t listen to anything.

(LAUGHTER)

And they don’t. I wouldn’t listen to my parents, but I found out that I absorbed. I never heard what they said — told me, but I did what they did.

And my children, my son and I have had a — even a more cantankerous relationship. But, more and more now, at 37, I find I’m really impressed with how much he knows and how much he thinks like me. But he never would agree with me and he never would listen to me on anything.

KABIR SEHGAL: You really can’t, you know, take a carbon copy of someone’s life and apply it to your life. That’s the whole example in this book, is, you can learn from people who come before you, but I’m not a preacher. I’m not — I hope I don’t run for politics. It doesn’t really excite me.

And hearing his stories just helped me understand what can go wrong in someone’s life, and how to avoid — people say, you stand on the shoulders of — of giants. Well, we have been — I have been swinging from his bootstraps. I know he — he came up the hard way. And I don’t have to repeat those same mistakes.

ANDREW YOUNG: And I don’t think it was the hard way. I think it was an easy way.

And I think I have been most fortunate and blessed. But I always quoted to my parents from Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet.” Your children are not your children. They come from you — they come through you, but not from you. You can give them your love, but not your thoughts, for they come from a land that you cannot enter, not even in your wildest dreams.

And that was because my daddy was determined to make me a dentist and a baseball player.

(LAUGHTER)

And I loved my daddy, but I always — but I wasted four years of college trying to do what he wanted me to do, and not what I felt I wanted to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the things, you obviously talk a lot in here about the civil rights movement, lessons learned. You worked so closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And you talk about his view of economics. And it’s very relevant right now, because of what this country is going through. What stays most with you about that?

KABIR SEHGAL: The challenge of our generation, whether it’s young lawyers, young investment bankers, is to make capitalism work for people not just around the corner, but for people all around the world.

I think capitalism is an anti-poverty reduction tool. I think Dr. King, uncle Andy has — have told me that it’s very important to use that message.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s — that’s — I mean I here Kabir saying this. This is not something one normally thinks about in connection…

ANDREW YOUNG: No, but Martin said one time — and he said it often — I admire the good samaritan, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to spend my life picking up people by the side of the road after they have been beaten up and robbed. I want to change the Jericho road, so that everybody has an opportunity for a job, education, security, health.

And he was — he had a macroeconomic vision, even though — in fact, the whole civil rights movement was a macroeconomic effort to change the South.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And is that relevant today?

ANDREW YOUNG: It’s extremely relevant, because he was talking about racism, war and poverty. I think we have made progress in both — enormous progress in racism and war, but we have made little or no progress in poverty.

And it’s because the economy has gotten more and more complex as we have globalized. And everybody is looking for a simple solution. And what I get from Kabir is, he’s wrestling every day on Wall Street. And I think that’s where the battle is. The battle for a global economy is going to be run by economists.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is — do you hear your godfather saying the solutions for global poverty are on Wall Street? Is that what you’re hearing?

KABIR SEHGAL: Not entirely.

I think the money for global solutions is on Wall Street. Wall Street allocates capital. And we need to get capital to the ideas that are successful, whether it’s microfinance, whether it’s through financial literacy programs, Wall Street can be the engine that makes us — makes capital get to the people who need it.

And we’re seeing that right now in many emerging markets.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you both about — about President Obama.

Ambassador Young, you didn’t support him in 2008. You were a Hillary Clinton supporter. You said at the time you thought he was too inexperienced, that he wasn’t ready. In fact, you say in the book that you still have your doubts.

Do you think that explains, in part, the difficulty he’s having right now?

ANDREW YOUNG: No, I think the difficulty he’s having right now is the deliberate obstructionism of the other party.

I think that they are trying to take the presidency back in 2012. They’re not trying to deal with America’s problems. And I think he is. And I think, right now, because I think those problems only have global solutions, his background is uniquely preparing him and us to pull the world together and have an economy that works for everybody. Presently, this economy is only working for the very, very rich.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kabir, as a young person, and you watch President Obama and what’s going on in Washington, what do you see?

KABIR SEHGAL: Well, I think it’s more of the same. I don’t know a time in American history where there hasn’t been people bickering with each other, back to the revolutionary times.

Like, I’m so glad that we have a democracy where we’re — the Tea Party is engaged in the system, and they’re actually getting voted in, and now they have to govern. I’m excited by this. It democracy at its very best. It doesn’t dishearten me at all.

I do think that I disagree with uncle Andy. I don’t think it’s really about obstructionists. I think it’s about President Obama coming up with an agenda about creating jobs, exporting more, making — helping Americans save more. And these are really — we need to have financial literacy in our country, not just complaining about obstructionism. We need solutions.

And I think the solutions are using high finance to make capitalism work for people around the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying that’s not being done?

KABIR SEHGAL: I don’t. I don’t think so.

ANDREW YOUNG: Well, but it’s not the president’s job alone.

KABIR SEHGAL: It’s not.

ANDREW YOUNG: And I’m — my solutions are to include Africa in the global economy, and not African charity, AIDS research, but African infrastructure development.

And I think that Africa can import and needs everything the whole world can manufacture. And they have got enough money to pay for it. It’s just that the money is in the ground. But we built Atlanta. The airport, the Olympics were all capital private money. But we defined the public purpose, and then we let the private sector manage and direct it and make money on it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there’s a lot to chew over in this book, a lot to think about, and a lot to talk about generation-to-generation.

Ambassador Andrew Young, Kabir Sehgal, thank you very much for being with us.

KABIR SEHGAL: Thank you.