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Former Atlanta Mayor, Civil Rights Leader Speaks To Teachers

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and UN Ambassador speaks to Gwinnett County Public Schools history educators Wednesday afternoon at the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse in Downtown Lawrenceville. 

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and UN Ambassador speaks to Gwinnett County Public Schools history educators Wednesday afternoon at the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse in Downtown Lawrenceville. 

LAWRENCEVILLE — Educators from Gwinnett County Public Schools who teach students the importance of historical events got a history lesson of their own Wednesday.

Andrew Young, an American activist, diplomat and former Atlanta mayor, told a group of 150 local social studies teachers that the kids they’re teaching today “are devoted to understanding America.”

“I hope you will help your students to realize that the key to understanding America is understanding the events of the past as they connect to the present,” Young said.

Held Wednesday afternoon at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse in downtown Lawrenceville, the event was a kickoff for a grant program recently awarded to the local school district.

Gwinnett County Public School social studies educators got a boost this year thanks to a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced recently that Gwinnett is one of only four school districts in Georgia to get the grant.

Funding goes toward supporting more than 150 local high school social studies teachers as they aim to raise the bar.

Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the group Wednesday that he felt privileged to witness a speech by a man who “has made a contribution that very few people can say they’ve made.”

Added Wilbanks: “It’s icing on the cake for this grant.”

Young’s history includes the following: former mayor, a congressman from the 5th District, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, president of the National Council of Churches USA and member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the 1960s civil rights movement.

He was a close friend and supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I love history,” Young told the group of educators, “but I didn’t like it in school.” The room filled with smiles and laughter.

He asked teachers to consider the following: “When teaching history, we ought to teach the conflicts. It wasn’t a bad thing that we disagreed. It was good that we were able to disagree.

“It’s the diversity, it’s the contentions that have made us a great nation,” Young said.

Helping students understand the link between the past and the present, he said, is important for teachers to consider.

“I remind people that there is hardly anything we’re going through now that we haven’t already been through,” he said.

In closing, Young asked the group to “learn what’s going on around us and try to perceive in a historical context.”