FORT VALLEY -- Americas struggles with race and class issues, especially in the South, have strengthened it over time and can help the country continue to be an economic leader in the years to come, former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young said Monday.
And students at Fort Valley State University in particular have a chance to be part of that success, Young said as the keynote speaker at Fort Valley State Universitys 26th annual Black History Month Scholarship Luncheon, with more than 800 people on hand.
The university raised nearly $158,000 after last years luncheon, which funded scholarships for about 200 students.
In his life, Young said hes traveled to more than 150 countries through his experiences as a civil rights leader, a minister, a congressman, mayor of Atlanta and part of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Through his travels and experience, Young said he thinks the United States history of slavery and segregation has actually strengthened it, even though Americans dont agree on every issue.
In spite of the fact of difference, ... we have shared a common heritage, said Young, a key player in the civil rights campaign of the 60s alongside Martin Luther King Jr.
Other countries are facing those issues too, but they may be more complicated to work though. For example, Chinas ethnic minorities or the hundreds of languages spoken in India may make it more difficult for people in those countries to come together, Young said.
While many are watching Chinas rise in the global economy, Young said that the middle class in Africa is growing at a faster rate than in other parts of the world.
He also said there is an international hunger for education and job opportunities that many U.S. residents take for granted. He pointed to the example of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire in December 2010 after having troubles obtaining a vending permit. That act is credited with helping inspire the popular revolt that became known as the Arab Spring.
It wasnt about democracy. It was about one man who wanted a job, and if he couldnt have a job he didnt want to live, Young said.
To sustain the needs of the worlds population, there will need to be more stable jobs around the globe, especially in industries such as agriculture and clothing production.
With the skills they are acquiring, as well as their experience working among diverse cultures, students at Fort Valley State are poised to become world leaders, he said.
If you could export the knowledge pool of this university to Africa and Latin America, you could change the world, Young said.
Milton Williams and Rena Ingram, who were among three students recognized at the event for having the highest grade-point averages, will be among those benefitting from the university scholarships.
To be able to get recognized for my work is rewarding, said Ingram, a chemistry major.
Williams, a plant science major, also enjoyed the opportunity to listen to Youngs experience about bringing businesses and jobs to Atlanta during his time as mayor.
Among the graduates in attendance were Collis Brown, a DeKalb County resident who graduated from Fort Valley State in 1972, as did his wife, Dewitt.
Brown said he was inspired by the turnout and hoped support from alumni would help current students, who will go on to boost their communities, whether in Middle Georgia or elsewhere.
Its not just a Fort Valley thing. Its a community thing, he said.