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Shaenee, Oklahoma
Story last updated at 1:53 a.m. Saturday, February 22, 2003

Man's blueprint for life made mark on civil rights movement

SNS Staff Writer

Paul Young
One man's blueprint for living made a difference in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and it guides his path still today.

It is grounded in the belief that all humans are created equal, that all have worth, that God's will is being done.

Paul Young grew up in Shawnee and attended Dunbar Heights School, where he cultivated a love of music that would blossom into a professional endeavor. But his skills also ran toward people, particularly the equal rights due all, and he spent years creating employment opportunities for black people.

"We have not eliminated all the problems of discrimination, but we are bigger than the problem now," Young said. "Mankind is one and the earth is our home. We're all plants of the same garden. I may be a sunflower and you may be a rose, but we all have our own value. With that type of attitude, we can get things done."

When Martin Luther King was working for human rights, so was Paul Young. As an official with Urban League in Tulsa, Young put the first black firefighter, police officer, clerk and engineer to work. He helped more than 2,000 black people get jobs in areas that segregation had deemed off limits.

 Paul Young is pictured as a young man growing up in Shawnee.
Young knew first-hand the injustice of segregation. He remembers his family using separate restrooms and water fountains and going into restaurants through a back door. But he also had the gift of a solid upbringing, of teachers and mentors who gave him a sense of respect for all human life.

Young was born in Shawnee in 1935 when his mother was 42 and his father 47. As a child, he delighted in the band students who marched down the street in front of his house. His father was the janitor at Dunbar school, so Young and his siblings had access to a world of instruments, he said. They were soon pounding away on a set of drums, then they tackled the saxophone and trumpet.

Young went on to Langston University, where he earned a degree in music and music education. After college, he was drafted into the Army and played in a military band. His group collected many awards and even performed on the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 1959. He then played music professionally across the country, producing jazz, R&B and big band sounds on acoustic bass, tenor sax and trumpet.

After he came home in 1962, Young was hired as assistant to the executive director at Urban League in Tulsa. His job was to develop education and employment programs for minorities, he said. That expanded to include on-the-job training.

The first day, his boss took him to meet with the management of American Airlines, Young said. His career continued in that fashion -- talking to presidents, CEOs and general managers about breaking the pattern and hiring qualified black people. He said he always approached a company leader with the metaphor that black people had helped get his family where it was today, but now it was time for them to work side by side. Young was not always greeted warmly, he said, but he knew the importance maintaining his own professionalism.

"I was taught by one of my mentors that if I was dealing with bigots, it was better to charm and disarm them than to struggle and fight with them," he said. "It worked quite a bit."

Young said he never pushed people to open doors, but let them know of bright minds who would make excellent employees. And later, when he encountered pay discrepancy between white and black people that was not warranted, he would point out that wrong to Equal Opportunity Employment.

In 1963, Young's attitude toward life coalesced with his faith when he became a Baha'i. He had turned to the Bible for understanding, seeking to make God through Jesus Christ the center of his life, he said. In Bahaism, he found the tolerance and acceptance toward all life that would strengthen his way.

"God's will is being done. With that in my heart, I have all the confidence to do the things I have to do," he said.

During Black History Month in February, Young said he hopes activities serve as a learning process for all -- for many races to recognize and appreciate the accomplishments of black people.

There is some residual discrimination, but the human race has made great headway, he said. Even today, with a sagging economy and the potential for war, Young sees the good around him as it falls in the cycle of life. He gives thanks for his gift of seeing things as they really are.

"I can see signs of progress, but also signs of decay. At the same time, I can accept the decay," he said. "There are seasons -- leaves fall off the tree and become compost, then feed new life."

©Copyright 2003, The Shawnee News-Star (OK, USA)

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