Andrew Young on Discovering Your Purpose

Andrew Young

Recently I was given an incredible gift. I had the opportunity to spend four hours with Andrew Young. His list of accomplishments is long. To list only a few, he was a pastor, a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement, a U.S. Congressman from Georgia, and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Also, he was the Atlanta mayor instrumental in bringing the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta.

During our afternoon conversation, he talked and I listened. I learned so much about life and leadership. In this series of posts, I will share what I learned from this man of God. He is a great leader who has made history multiple times. To read the rest of this series, visit and subscribe.

At the end of our four hour meeting, Andrew Young said, “I don’t know why I met with you. I don’t know why I was supposed to talk the whole time and you were supposed to listen. But maybe the reason for this meeting was for me to discover my next purpose in life.”

When he said this, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I came to this meeting hoping he could help me discover my next purpose. I wanted to sit at the feet of the man who had purpose dropped in his lap many times during his lifetime.

Here is his purpose history…

Purpose #1

Not knowing where to go with his newly earned divinity degree, he was approached by a small church in Marion, Alabama. They wanted him to lead the twenty-five person congregation. Within a short time, he was asked to pastor another twenty-five person congregation in the same area. Finally, he had enough money to live on.

He was then asked to come to Dahlonega College and participate on a panel. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also asked to be on that same panel. When Andrew told me this story he said, “To this day, I believe I was asked to be on that panel because they didn’t believe Martin would actually show up.” But that’s how he met MLK, Jr.

Purpose #2

This led him to the purpose of the Southern Leadership Conference. He joined MLK as a leader in the civil rights movement. They were focused on getting African Americans in the southern states the right to vote. He walked the Selma Bridge and was shoulder to shoulder with MLK right up to the day of his assassination.

Shortly after MLK’s death he said to himself, “I have been living my life for Martin’s dream. Now it is time for me to live for my dream.”

But he wasn’t sure he had a dream. He said, “Many of the leadership supporters of the civil rights movement and the SLC wanted one of us to step into leadership. But we were all afraid we would get killed.”

He was talking to Harry Belafonte, the famous singer and big supporter of the movement, who told him, “We are going to do a big fundraising concert in Atlanta. We will have all my friends from Hollywood, New York, and Las Vegas.”

“Who is the beneficiary of this fundraiser?” asked Andrew.

“You,” Belefonte answered.

“Me? Why do I need money?” asked Andrew.

“You are entering the congressional race here in Georgia.”

Purpose #3

And that’s how he became a congressman. He did lose the first time he ran in 1970 but won his seat in the 1972 election. He was re-elected in 1974 and in 1976.

Purpose #4

President Jimmy Carter asked him to be the ambassador for the United States at the United Nations. He said, “I didn’t know anything about being an ambassador. But Jimmy thought my civil rights background would help in opening up better relations with Africa. I found out later, he was right.”

Purpose #5

After serving as ambassador, he was asked by Atlanta leaders to run for mayor of Atlanta. He did and won. He told me, “I just knew in my heart  Atlanta could be an international city of peace with a strong economy.”

This vision came from a book which had a profound impact on him as a community leader. The book was Cities and the Wealth of Nations. He said, “The message of this book hit me hard. I believed what the author said. Strong and vibrant cities create great nations.”

He served as Atlanta’s mayor for two consecutive terms. He brought $70 billion of new private investment to Atlanta. He left this purpose in 1989. While reflecting on his time as mayor, he said to me, “The only way to get something done in a city is to be a true volunteer.”

He ran for governor of Georgia and lost. He never said anything about this in our conversation. But in doing a little digging, I found this in his Wikipedia page.

“Young campaigned hard but by the primary, with no central message, his campaign ran into trouble against the well-heeled and prepared lieutenant governor. Many think he failed in his effort by trying to garner support amongst rural, conservative white voters, rather than turning out his urban and African-American base. Also, Young never found an issue that roused supporters, unlike Miller, who won voters by championing a state lottery. Miller won the runoff, 2 to 1 and ended Young’s gubernatorial aspirations for good.”


Lacking a “central message” tells me being governor was not his next purpose. In every other call to a new purpose, he was uniquely equipped from his experience or his vision for what could be.

Purpose #6

He got involved with Atlanta’s bid for the 1996 Olympics. He said, “Atlanta was a unique city for the Olympics. We had no natural barriers for venues. We could host venues in all four directions from the city.” He told me he expected $1 billion in revenue if they won the bid. When the 1996 Olympic Games were completed, they realized $2.5 billion. “It was an amazing boost for Atlanta and all who participated.”

In the midst of his stories on the Olympic bid, win, and operations, he said, “When I met Billy Payne, I thought he was a prophet from God.” That’s how much Andrew loved Atlanta and admired great leaders.

So there I was thinking, What about my next purpose?

After writing about Andrew Young’s changing purpose at each stage of his life, who am I to ask this question? My next purpose will come, no doubt. God uses all who are available to Him.

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One thought on “Andrew Young on Discovering Your Purpose

  1. You are a purpose-driven guy – that there must be a purpose in your life has always been an organizing principle. Everything in life leading up to this moment has been preparation for what comes next.

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