Post-Racial America? Not Yet, Civil Rights Legend Andrew Young Says

Andrew Young urges young people to make money for social justice.

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2010 -- Ask Andrew Young, the American politician, diplomat and civil rights legend, about the tea party movement, and he'll all but tell you it's one sign the country hasn't reached a post-racial era.

"Without making a moral judgment about it, let's just say ethno-centrism runs so deep in America that we are hardly beyond this," he said in an interview with

The tea party "is motivated by a nativism -- an appeal to the good old days and people who are anxious about change and want to go back to the way they would like to think things were."

Young, who has spent a lifetime fighting to change American society for the better, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his decades-long career in public service, which included working as an aide to Martin Luther King Jr., serving as a Democratic congressman from Georgia, and later becoming U.N. ambassador and mayor of Atlanta.

Now 78, Young says it's time for the next generation to pick up his torch of social justice and economic empowerment and "walk in my shoes."

"Walk in My Shoes" is also the title of his new book, a collection of conversations about the "journey ahead," co-authored with his godson, Kabir Sehgal.

"There can be no democracy without truth. There can be no truth without controversy, there can be no change without freedom," Young writes in the book. "Without freedom there can be no progress."

Interwoven with anecdotes about love and faith, politics and policy, Young mentors the 25-year-old JPMorgan investment banker Sehgal on the importance of making money -- a lot of it -- to create sustainable solutions for "environmental preservation, ending poverty, feeding the planet and healing the sick."

"Uncle Andy is a big supporter of Wall Street," said Sehgal, a Dartmouth College graduate who grew up next door to Young in Atlanta. "You can't get through one conversation with Andy without talking about Wall Street."

Young says he has long encouraged his godson and other investment bankers and their firms, despite the industry's recently tarnished reputation in the wake of the financial crisis.

"I believe in humanitarian capitalism," Young said, "and there are good people on Wall Street." He cited Warren Buffett, Apple's Steve Jobs and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as examples of responsible businessmen.

"Profits should be for a purpose. Profits should be productive. You should make money for producing benefits that make the world a better place. Making money is a good thing when it is made in service to humanity or the democracy," he said.

Young: 'Don't Get Mad, Get Smart'

Sehgal, who describes himself as an "abnormal" breed of Wall Street banker, says he aspires to be among that crowd.

"I got into banking to make money to finance new companies and new projects I want to pursue," he said. "I like to think of myself as an entrepreneur stuck on Wall Street."

One example of those dreams is Sehgal's philanthropic start-up website -- a clearinghouse for jazz musicians available for weddings and parties that collects a small fee for bookings which it then donates toward rebuilding efforts in New Orleans.

But Young and Sehgal say their decades-long journey together has been more than career mentoring: it's been a dialogue on the rich legacy of the American civil rights movement of the 1960s along with some of the life lessons learned along the way.

"Most people might look at their grandparents as part of the furniture," said Sehgal. "But Andy is loose, creative, no boxes for his mind -- that resonates with me and, I think, other people my age."

Among the most meaningful lessons Young has imparted, Sehgal said, is the importance of "keeping your cool" in the face of adversity.

"When people begin to bug you, you can't say it out loud, but you can say deep in the back of your mind -- go fu** yourself," Sehgal recalls Young telling him. "If something doesn't seem right to you, don't let it pressure you. Go on about your business."

"I told Kabir, if you get emotional in a fight, you lose the fight," Young said. "I was raised that way: don't get mad, get smart."