Walk in My Shoes: Conversations between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson on the Journey Ahead

Walk in My Shoes: Conversations between a Civil Rights Legend and His Godson on the Journey Ahead

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by Andrew J. Young, Kabir Sehgal

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A top aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young has been a witness to history and has made his own. During the civil rights movement, he worked tirelessly as a strategist and negotiator during the campaigns that resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, and was at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s side when he was assassinated. For years,… See more details below


A top aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young has been a witness to history and has made his own. During the civil rights movement, he worked tirelessly as a strategist and negotiator during the campaigns that resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, and was at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s side when he was assassinated. For years, in correspondence and conversation, he has been mentoring his godson, Kabir Sehgal. In this entertaining and provocative discourse, Young shares his thoughts and meditations on such important topics as race, civil rights, faith, and leadership. Young offers his wisdom on these subjects to a new generation of young men and women in hopes that his battle-tested voice will inspire and encourage those in whose hands the world will soon rest.

Editorial Reviews

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Praise for Walk in My Shoes:

“A motivating history and personal story about family, courage, and faith. Walk in My Shoes is filled with the wisdom, insight, and candor only experience could harness.”—Newt Gingrich, former house speaker

“This brilliant, courageous, and intelligent man has stood for right and for Civil Rights for all people.  In this book, we can follow the development of a young African American mind and the development of the movement which changed this country.  He was brave, he was loving, and he was there. Thank God he lived to tell about it.”—Maya Angelou

“This book re-affirms what all of Andrew Young's friends and colleagues have always known.  Andy is a preacher.  Every story, episode, illustration is in fact a sermon.  And every reader will be instructed and inspired by Andy's wisdom and experience.”—Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Senior Managing Director of Lazard

“Andrew Young and Kabir Sehgal open up their hearts with pitch-perfect sincerity.  This is a fiercely inspiring cross-generational memoir filled with folk wisdom, human frailty, and sweet victory amongst the fangs of defeatism.  Consider this book a joy.”—Douglas Brinkley

“Andrew Young and Kabir Sehgal have woven together years of their candid and unvarnished conversations to create a wonderful combination of biography, memoir, and guide to life. This is an enlightening book that shows how great wisdom is passed down to new generations.”—Walter Isaacson, president of The Aspen Institute

"Andrew Young witnessed the depths of modern times — he saw us at our very worst, and yet he has written an intensely personal love letter to America. This is a love story — love of country — it’s also a story about loss and regret, good and evil. Andrew Young was present at the creation of the movement that changed our country forever."—Brian Williams, Anchor and Managing Editor, NBC Nightly News

“Andrew Young and Kabir Sehgal have produced a valuable book, one that offers timeless lessons of faith, love and leadership. The book illuminates the civil rights revolution of the 1960s and calls upon its readers—each in our own way —to carry on the work of building a more perfect America with courage and vision and humility.” —Senator Joe Lieberman

“Filled with wisdom and political insight, Walk in My Shoes is graceful, yet sharp. Hip, yet respectful. It is a blueprint for future generations to speak openly and honestly with one another.”—The Honorable Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta

“Working with Ambassador Young has taught me that we share more similarities than differences between our generations. The conversations with his Godson should remind us how important it is to combine what we have in common with our unique perspectives in order to change the community and the world.”—Clifford "TI" Harris, Jr., Entertainer/Actor

"This is a great gift to America's children - now and in the future. Andy Young has perfect pitch when it comes to telling the great story of a civil rights crusade that is a hymn to  courage, non violence and rule of law. He was there, every step of the way, and his reflections are deeply personal and historic. I am personally grateful for this important work."—Tom Brokaw

 “Ambassador Young wears many hats, and in this book he takes on the role of Godfather speaking to his Godson. As I read it I can picture many of the conversations he and I had on the many trips I've taken with him to Africa. And having just an opportunity to walk with him on the continent of Africa showed me a different Africa and a different Andrew Young. For that I am eternally grateful. He is my friend, he is the world's friend and I hope that every emerging leader picks up this book as a reference for what it takes to change the world.”—Chris Tucker, Actor, Comedian, Activist

"Engaging, raw, and impactful, this book should be a required reading for us all. Ambassador Young imparts wisdom on his God son with an organic humor and sensibility that can make you laugh and cry at the same time."—Jamie Foxx, Oscar-winning actor, Grammy-winning performer


“Andrew Young found himself at the intersection of history when the civil rights movement changed America's future by redeeming its past. Forty years later, a new generation, represented by Kabir Sehgal, sees another meeting with history approaching. What could be more valuable than learning from a man who has experienced what it means to forge inspiration in the crucible of conflict?"—Deepak Chopra

"Wisdom can be found in many places. In Walk in My Shoes, a young man turns to his mentor Uncle Andy for guidance on faith, spirituality and love. Not only is this an innovative memoir, these pages are filled with irreverent honesty and timeless wisdom."—Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“I grew up right around the corner from Mayor Young, as we called Andrew Young then. He's always had vision and always shared his vision with the younger community. This type of leadership doesn't happen without considerations and conversations with the next generation, as we see in this inspiring and important book.”—Aldrin "DJ Toomp" Davis, Grammy-winning producer

"Andrew Young is an American hero who has spent a lifetime leading by example. Walk in My Shoes, poignantly illustrates Ambassador Young's wisdom and devotion to others.  In this book, the life lessons of a great man makes us all better."—Mellody Hobson, President, Ariel Investments

Walk in My Shoes is indicative of the distinctions and intersections between generations that offer both challenges and opportunities for all of us to communicate with one another in order to make the world a better place. This book probes those areas that we like to ignore regarding what it means to be a visionary, and what sacrifices have to be made in order to positively influence change. Steeped in a vulnerable narrative between two men, this is a bold and intelligent work.”—Joycelyn A. Wilson, PhD. Scholar of Hip-Hop Studies, The HipHop2020 Curriculum Project, Morehouse College

"A fascinating glimpse into the life of one of America’s most important activists....Lively and passionate.”—Birmingham News 

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

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Walk In My Shoes

Conversations Between A Civil Rights Legend And His Godson On The Journey Ahead

By Andrew Young, Kabir Sehgal

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Young and Kabir Sehgal
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-62360-6




Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

—Steve Jobs, cofounder and CEO of Apple

I was en route to Uncle Andy's house. There was a traffic jam on I-285, the highway that encircles Atlanta. Luckily my mom was driving. She knows the shortcuts you'll never hear from a GPS, the ones that send you zooming through a BP gas station parking lot and puffing for air. Even though I'm perfectly capable of driving, she always insists on taking the wheel. Whenever I visit my folks in Atlanta, I try to swing by Uncle Andy's. "Make sure to ask him about his parents and how he learned to respect them," my mom grinned as she drove. I rolled my eyes. "As if the commandment to honor our father and mother wasn't enough," I thought.

We pulled into Uncle Andy's narrow driveway. The cracked, dark gray pavement was kissed by the weeds in his front lawn which was browning in the middle. Eight Japanese maples surrounded his house. Andy planted them after spending time in Japan to court the International Olympic Committee in the late 1980s. He used to have several bonsai trees which he bought in Korea during the 1988 Olympics. He took the trees to a monastery during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta because he couldn't devote the almost daily care needed to maintain them. The ninety-year-old monk who was looking after them died, and then torrential rain destroyed the trees. The camellia bush he brought from the home of his late wife, Jean, in Marion, Alabama, has grown more than ten feet since it was moved.

He's lived in the same house since December 1966, when he bought it for $32,500 on a plot fifty feet wide and four hundred feet deep. He's installed ramps and rails in his backyard and jokes he is building his own retirement village. It's a small house with a main floor and basement. He had to expand it because his mother moved in after his father passed away, and because of his blossoming collection of African art and odd gifts from his extensive travels. Even his artwork is humble. Well, besides the statues of naked African women. One might easily think that Andy didn't have much money or he had simple tastes. Both are true. "Better to have wealthy friends," he's always advised me.

I waved good-bye to mom and was greeted by booming barks from Andy's two tall and tan Rhodesian Ridgebacks. He named one Nzingha after the seventeenth-century Angolan warrior queen who fought the Portuguese. The other he named Simba after the protagonist in The Lion King and because Rhodesian Ridgebacks were used to chase lions. "If we had smaller dogs, then my wife would want them to sleep in our bed," he once explained to me.

"Whatcha know?" Andy called out. That is Uncle Andy-speak for "How's it going?" The front door swung open. I heard the hiss of the television in the background. "Since when do you watch Fox News?" I asked. "Got to listen to everybody," he smiled.

While speaking about the upcoming Atlanta Falcons season, he ushered me into his living room, poured pink fruit juice over crackling ice for me, muted the forty-two-inch Panasonic television and sat down. The glass table was covered with unorganized newspapers and memos. I counted two glass figures he had recently been awarded. One of them read, "Award Presented to Andrew Young for His Distinguished Career in Public Service." He saw me eyeing it.

"Do you want it?" he asked. He was serious. Andy always gives. The lyrics from one of his favorite hymns are, "You can't beat God giving, no matter how you try.... The more you give, the more he gives to you." At first I joked with him, "Maybe we could sell it on eBay." But I thought better of it. "No thanks, just checking out your latest trophies," I replied.

"What's on your mind?" he asked, while craning his neck to see why Simba was still barking. I sat back in the couch.

"I've been thinking a lot about my next career move. I'm in the same place as many of my friends—recently graduated from college, working a decent job, wanting to make a difference in the world but not sure how to do it. It seems like everyone else has an idea on what I should be doing though."

"How's that?" he asked.

He always asks questions first. Though he's very much a conceptual and thematic thinker and speaker, he likes to get down into the weeds. He likes facts. They help him tell better stories.

A colleague thinks I should apply to business school or take the chartered financial analyst exam. Another thinks I must try my hand at management consulting. You know—Goldman, McKinsey and Harvard Business School, the trinity of overachieving conformity. When you make a little success, people expect you to succeed. I've even started to put pressure on myself, as if my next career move must place me closer to the mountaintop. The problem is that I'm not sure what I want to do or which mountain to climb.

I asked, "How do you escape these great expectations? How did you deal with other people's expectations of you?"

"Your question reminds me of some advice I gave to a bright young man in the tenth grade at the North Atlanta High School," he responded. Uncle Andy advises by anecdotes, like Jesus, who instructed with parables. There always seems to be a fitting story in his museum of a mind. "Everyone was putting pressure on him. He's tall, articulate and good looking. And he's a leader in the school. But there was so much pressure on him that he was breaking out in hives. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him," he said.

His classmates were teasing him about not picking a sexy topic like robotics or information technology for his science project. He had chosen biodegradation and composting. Andy urged the kid to stick with the project, especially since much of our future fuel may come from composting.

"I took him aside and said, 'Look, you are letting people put too much pressure on you.' I chose my words very deliberately. I said, '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 fuck yourself.' I said it that way because that is a very masculine rejection. 'And you don't need to be wishy-washy about it. If something doesn't seem right to you, don't let it pressure you. Go on about your business.'"

"You told a tenth grader what?" I asked. I can't say I was shocked. I've come to expect jarring honesty from Uncle Andy, but I wanted to make sure I'd heard him right.

"Remember, if you say it aloud, you'll turn people off. You have to say it to yourself. It will actually empower you when you say it in your head," he said.

"I'll practice that at work," I interrupted. Actually, the tough part isn't saying "fuck you" while working on a trading floor, it's saying it in your head.

He ignored me and continued, "I guarantee you those hives went away. It was the emotional pressure and the expectation of his parents and his teachers. Everyone might give you hell. But if this is what you want to do, then believe in yourself. Don't let anyone else tell you what you need to do with your life. I always saw great expectations as conformist pressure." His voice crescendoed as he reached his point, "Find your path."

"How did you find your path? So many of us are directionless and rudderless. How did you determine the path that took you from New Orleans as a boy to New York as US ambassador to the UN?" I asked.

"I stumbled to find my path," he started. "I'm a leaf in a divine wind, just floating from one thing to another." I liked his imagery. If he was a leaf, I was crazy kudzu not knowing which way to grow. A divine wind could explain why Andy never enlisted in the military, for example. He broke his arm when he was a kid and it never set correctly, which made him unable to join. Andy was destined to be a peacemaker from the beginning.

Most importantly, he believes that whatever one does should come from within—there is a spiritual core in every human being. He can recite perfectly a quote that he came across in the 1950s from Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion, which is about the Quaker philosophy: "Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts pressing upon our time-worn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself." I'm impressed with his recall. I can barely recite the Lord's Prayer.

The message that he infers from this passage is that there is something in all of us. We must wake up and listen to this quiet, sometimes brooding voice. He admires other leaders and philosophers who discovered their inner voice and followed it. In the New Testament, Jesus was tempted with power, money and supernatural claims. And he rejected it all. Jesus said the "kingdom of God is within you." German philosopher Paul Tillich, whom Andy read closely, believed that the search for ultimate reality must occur within as well as without.

"You don't find your calling immediately. It's one step at a time, one day at a time," Andy stated slowly. "It takes time to discover your inner voice." I thought about the movie What About Bob? in which Bill Murray's psychiatrist recommends that he take baby steps toward goals. It seemed like Andy was saying the same thing—take baby steps toward your aspirations.

I argued that some might think that his career was premeditated. Becoming a reverend was excellent preparation for getting involved in the civil rights movement. And being involved in the civil rights movement prepared him well for the United Nations, just like working at an investment bank could prepare one well for working at a private equity shop or hedge fund.

"Except I made all the wrong choices for an up-and-coming bourgeois black preacher. I should have gone to a big church, but I went to a little one. I should have gone to Yale, where my pastor went, but I went to Hartford Seminary. I had a small, intimate experience with my professors at Hartford that I couldn't have gotten at Yale because I would have just been another number. But I wouldn't say that my career happened by accident either. I borrow the term from Adam Smith—I felt an invisible hand has guided my life from within," he replied. "I had no idea I would get involved with the civil rights movement and become a trusted advisor and friend to Martin. But the civil rights movement wasn't concentrated in the church. It was fomented in law schools and universities."

In 1955, the year Andy graduated from the seminary, Rosa Parks sat down in the bus and sparked a national debate about civil rights. That's when the church started to get more involved. It wasn't until the early 1960s that Protestants, Catholics and Jews came together and created the National Council on Religion and Race in Chicago, which was the first large, organized, ecumenical attempt to discuss civil rights.

"My interest in civil rights didn't get activated in school. And even my getting interested in theology took some time."

"How did you work out what you wanted to become?" I asked.

"You've got to remember where I started," Andy declared. "My father wanted me to become everything he wanted to be."

Andy's father, Andrew Sr., wanted Andy to become a baseball player. Andrew Sr. was a good baseball player, but blacks couldn't get into the major leagues when he was growing up. His dream was that Andy would become the next Jackie Robinson. But that's what he wanted to do, and Andy understood that at an early age. And then Andrew Sr. wanted Andy to become a dentist like him. Andy knew that his father had rebelled against his father too. Andy's grandfather Frank was a businessman. He owned a pool hall and grocery store. He was the treasurer of several burial societies and Masonic orders. Frank wanted Andrew Sr. to carry on the family businesses, but Andrew Sr. left home and enrolled at dental school.

"Your papa wanted to live vicariously through you, but you rejected his aspirations for you," I said, trying to capture the facts like a photographer trying to snap the perfect sunset.

"Hell yes! I had to break away from my father. I didn't want to brush anyone's teeth," he chuckled. He leaned forward and spread his wrinkled hands.

Andy believes that rejecting your parents' aspirations doesn't mean rejecting them altogether. He understood at a young age that his father was a very thoughtful, pastoral and socially sensitive man. Many of his father's patients came to his office not only to get their teeth cleaned but to speak with someone at a high moral and intellectual level. Andrew Sr. had a powerful commitment to the truth. Once as a boy, Andy bragged about getting more change than he was supposed to from the butcher. Andrew Sr. started to take off his belt and demanded that Andy return the money immediately. Andy hauled ass back to the butcher not wanting to be whipped by his father.

"That's just who he was. I wanted to be those things too, but I didn't have to become a dentist to do so. His motives were sound. My dad wanted me to be secure with a job that paid $10,000 per year," he explained. In the 1930s, when Andy was born, a job that paid $10,000 gave one security and the ability to educate one's children. Andy's younger brother, Walter, however, became a dentist, which was his calling.

"In a way, you were like the kid who was breaking out in hives," I said.

"Yes. It's tough to say 'fuck you' to your parents or anyone else. When you do, you can go the other direction and wander aimlessly."

As a young man, Andy was sent by the United Church of Christ to San Francisco. The Church was one of the sponsors of the famed City Lights bookstore, where beat poets performed. Andy envied Jack Kerouac and the other beat poets and their freedom. The free booze was tempting. The free sex was very, very tempting. But he had to cut his trip short. It was just too wild. It was too free. "You can't say 'fuck you' to everything. I realized that a life dedicated to partying was no life for me," he said.

While in San Francisco he went to a shop in Chinatown to buy a silk dress for Jean. The Chinese clerk disappeared behind a curtain of beads, and Andy started to panic and ran out of the store, not wanting to be shanghaied. He had seen many kung fu movies in which a hand appears from behind a beaded curtain and drags the unwitting patron away against his will. Upon reflection on the incident, Andy realized that he was guilty of stereotyping and could better understand the prejudices some whites had against blacks.

I've lived in San Francisco and thoroughly enjoyed several carefree moments. I explained to him "Bay to Breakers," the city's annual seven-mile footrace in which participants dress up in costumes, tap kegs and just revel. My favorite costumes were the seven fish running in the opposite direction followed by a bear.

I returned to the subject at hand. "Did Dr. King start with the end in mind? What did Dr. King want to become?" I asked.

"When he first started to preach, Martin's ambition was to teach at a topnotch seminary and become the preacher at a place like Riverside Church, the big church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which was financed by the Rockefeller brothers," he replied.

Just before Dr. King was killed, the leaders of Riverside offered him a year's sabbatical from the movement to be the interim pastor at Riverside. Andy and other civil rights leaders encouraged him to take the offer, but he declined because he was too involved with the movement.

"Did he want to be the Rick Warren of his day?" I asked.

"Not exactly. Martin thought he wanted to become a pastor of a large church, but he later found ideals to which he could aspire. That is something very important to learn from Martin—to follow an ideal like service, nonviolence, love. And then life becomes an innovative effort to try to achieve these ideals," he said.

"If my ideal is generosity, then I can try to be generous in my vocation, family life or in some other way," I replied. My mom encouraged me to read Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali and The Religion of Man, in which he describes kindness and love as the ultimate religion. I've tried to internalize kindness and love as personal ideals. I'm no paragon, however. Far from it. "So you think I need to worry less about my actual job but try to use whatever I'm doing now to achieve my ideals of love and kindness?" I asked.

Andy grinned. "I couldn't have said it better. You're listening to that voice within." I was actually listening to his voice. After listening to a mentor for years, his voice can merge with yours.

Cool. This was actually helping me. If I tried to pursue my ideals with actions both big and small, I might feel as if I were making a contribution to the greater good. I didn't need to rescue puppies from burning buildings to exhibit my kindness. I could open the door for girls everywhere. I said, "I have to ask you too—what did you want to become?"

"I didn't know. But I needed to get away from those great expectations. I had a strong interest in theology, but my father warned me that he wouldn't pay for seminary. He thought seminary was a waste of money. So I went on my own," he replied.


Excerpted from Walk In My Shoes by Andrew Young, Kabir Sehgal. Copyright © 2010 Andrew Young and Kabir Sehgal. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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