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NORTHRIDGE : Civil Rights Leader Speaks at University

March 09, 1994|JILL LEOVY

Civil rights leader Andrew Young urged Cal State Northridge students to see the earthquake "not as something to be spurned, but as an opportunity," in a speech he gave on campus Tuesday.

The Jan. 17 earthquake damaged dozens of campus buildings. Young, former mayor of Atlanta and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, compared the problems it has caused to the kind of crises he dealt with as mayor of Atlanta, and to those he helped create in the fight for civil rights.

"Crisis is really that which produces change and progress," Young said. "It brings out the best in people and produces real leadership."

The speech was not the reason for Young's visit. He came to survey the work being done by Law Companies Group, an engineering and environmental services firm in which he is vice president. Law Companies has been doing much of the cleanup work and damage surveys on campus since the quake.

Student leaders blamed the short notice, conflicting class schedules and lack of publicity for the low turnout at Young's speech.

Although about 30 students from a Pan-African studies class appeared toward the end of his talk, for the most part it was a few dozen campus officials, Law Companies officials and media that filled the seats in the roomy auditorium.

The handful of students said they came out of admiration for Young, who also served three terms in Congress.

Black Student Union President Leslie Small said: "The man is an icon with respect to one, civil rights, and two, coming into the political mainstream. What better can you ask for as a student?"

Young, who served as a top aide to Martin Luther King Jr., told students that because of the earthquake they are getting more than most college students get from their education.

The earthquake "will prepare you in a way that just going to the library and doing the fun things about college life won't," he said. "Most people complete their studies and then go on and get their education somewhere else. You are getting yours now."

Responding to a question by CSUN Student Body President Steven Parker, who asked about the role of anger in current civil rights debate, Young expanded on the theme of nonviolence, sounding for a moment less like a politician and more like the clergyman he once was.

"What happens in violence is that blood runs from your head to your hands and arms and you prepare for fight or flight," Young said. "Both ways, you lose. . . . Anger is counterproductive."

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