For most of my life, I've looked at former UN ambassador and Atlanta mayor, Andrew Young, as an important civil rights icon, and one of the ultimate voices for peace and equality. He's someone that when he walks into a room, he commands respect. His closeness to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work in the civil rights movement afford him said respect. But along with that comes a huge responsibility. Far be it from me to criticize Ambassador Young. But I don't think I'm alone when I say that he's been dabbling in things that seem counterproductive to what we all believe that he stands for. During 2006, he has made some controversial decisions, such as defending his fellow former Atlanta mayor, and now convicted criminal, Bill Campbell. And I'm afraid it's just gotten worse.
It seems that recently when a corporate giant runs afoul of public opinion, Young becomes the "go to guy" to help mend their image. He came under tremendous fire in the late 90's when his company, GoodWorks, was accused of painting a pretty picture over the terrible business practices of Nike. Labor groups couldn't believe it. The man who "bridged the gaps between the rich and the poor" was now being said to have "misrepresented" the true nature of Nike and its relationships with employees in third world nations.
Then, earlier this year, Young signed on with mega economy- killer and labor-suppressor, WalMart. I'm sure you've seen the ads featuring Young posing with the smiling faces of WalMart employees. All of which probably make only minimum wage and receive no benefits like healthcare or retirement packages.
But today, Young's association with WalMart ends. He's resigning over statements that he made about the giant corporation putting "mom and pop" operations out of business, and his stated belief that they should. To his credit, he did apologize for what he said. But I think he should further clarify just what he believes. The responsibility afforded by his place in society calls for it.
For the record, my first job was with a "mom and pop" grocery store when I was 15. It no longer exists today as it was hard enough for it and its fellow small grocery stores to compete with the chain stores. When WalMart finally bullied its way into town (against a great effort from locals that lasted several years), the store could no longer keep its doors open. In fact, of the 6 "mom and pop" grocery stores (not counting hardware stores, etc) that I can remember, only two are still in business. And rumors have abounded for a while of the impending closing of the other two.
As for how the store I worked for conducted its business, it was ran by a devout Christian who didn't walk around with his convictions on his sleeves and liberally passing out his judgements on how one should live their life. Instead, he led quietly by example. The family business didn't stay open for 60 years by overcharging its customers and discriminating against them. Rather, it was involved in the community and supported the very customers that walked through its doors daily- regardless of race. When homes were burned or lost in a storm, or when the job of a loyal customer was lost, he was ususally there the next day with a free box of groceries in arm and a promise of further help and prayers. Many, many times I witnessed this man make good on his promises and live out his beliefs.
So, I have a real problem with Young's generalized characterization of "mom and pop" stores and his belief that WalMart should run them out of business. From my perspective, some self-evaluation seems needed for a man whose name has been synonymous with "equality."