Ambassador Andrew Young gives the keynote speech

Ambassador Andrew Young gives the keynote speech at the Annual MLK Day of Celebration on Tuesday over Zoom, photographed in Jesse Hall at the University of Missouri.

It is better to think than to fight, said former UN Ambassador Andrew Young.

“(Growing up), you either had to talk or fight,” Young said in an interview Monday. “When you get angry, the blood rushes from your head and your brain stops working and you will inevitably do something stupid.

“So don’t get mad, get smart.”

Young was the 2021 keynote speaker at MU’s Annual MLK Day of Celebration. This year’s theme was “Infinite Hope: The Power and Possibilities of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Vision.”

Throughout his career, Young impacted civil rights in the United States through a variety of roles, including serving as a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a U.S. Representative from Georgia, the Mayor of Atlanta, an ordained minister and an activist.

Young focused his remarks on a message of nonviolence, the spiritual powers behind the civil rights movement and the importance of engaging with the political system to create change.

The Day of Celebration included the presentation of the MLK Community Award to Worley Street Roundtable, an organization that supports teachers and students in Columbia.

There was also a video compilation of the impact of King’s legacy on MU students, faculty, staff and the community.

Young spoke of Gandhi’s impact on Black student leaders prior to the civil rights movement.

Gandhi’s message of nonviolence was the inspiration behind the tactics of the civil rights movement.

“Your mind is the most powerful weapon you have,” Young said, as opposed to physical force.

Young described a divine spirit that links the stories and events of history and joins people together to change the world.

“There was some spiritual power moving across the earth that was influencing the shaping of history by touching young lives,” Young said.

Young also spoke about the role of “spiritual accidents.” Young said nothing was ever planned.

“Any movement we were a part of was an accident. But it was a spiritual accident,” he said, describing a divine order influencing historic events.

In the interview Monday, Young said civil rights activists’ main efforts were responding to crises as they arose, but it was important to do it in an organized way.

“A civil rights movement done well is a community organizing effort,” Young said.

Young also reflected on the significance of the theme of infinite hope in the interview.

Infinite hope is something we are all born with, he said.

“The Constitution is hope,” Young said. “We are endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights, and amongst these is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Implied in the pursuit of happiness is the concept of hope, Young said.

During the Q&A portion of the event, Young emphasized the importance of shifting social movements from protest to politics.

The last conversation Young had with King was about “how to take the energy of this movement and move it into politics so we can elect people of good will.”

Young concluded his keynote address by saying students are the future leaders.

“I guarantee you the power of a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King, Jr., a Nelson Mandela is in you,” Young said.

  • Education Reporter, spring 2021. I am a first year Masters student studying news editing. Reach me at or on Twitter @MadiStephens6.

  • Assistant city editor, grad student studying investigative reporting and photojournalism. You can reach me at or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • Elizabeth Brixey is the Columbia Missourian's education editor and an associate professor in the Missouri School of Journalism. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and

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