Former Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young celebrated his 85th birthday Saturday night with several thousands of his closest friends, famous and otherwise.
The Andrew Young International Leadership Awards event – saluting former Vice President Joe Biden, Atlanta’s most energetic teacher, Ron Clark, recording artist and global philanthropist Akon and other honorees – packed Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta Saturday night.
Here are some photos of the red carpet arrivals:
“There is only one person who can fill up Philips Arena for a birthday celebration,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who kicked things off after recording artist Cristina Quinones sang the National Anthem.
Reed saluted Young as “one of the most extraordinary individuals that the United States of America has ever produced. He actually has lived a life that has made America great. I wouldn’t be anywhere else tonight but right here. I would not be standing here as the 59th mayor of the city of Atlanta without your involvement in my life.”
Young’s wife Carolyn, who said her husband’s mind was “as sharp as a ninja’s blade,” delighted the crowd with inspiring and tender remarks.
“I do love my husband and I am proud of him,” she said. “I’m a smart woman so I married a smart man. Not everybody is so lucky. I married a pastor, an activist, a Congressman and a diplomat. I found all of this in only one man.”
In closing she spoke directly to her husband: “Thank you for carrying us so far and thank you for letting me carry with you. I love you.”
Actor Anthony Anderson served as the evening’s host.
“You were our social media before there was social media,” the star of “Black-ish” said. “You were making our young people aware of injustices before there was Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. You are a living legend.”
Recording artists Jill Scott, Wyclef Jean, Estelle and Anthony Brown performed. Usher also had been advertised as part of the program. He then supposedly joined the roster of stars who performed at a special tribute concert in Manchester, England, spearheaded by Ariana Grande. Terrorists struck after her concert there two weeks ago, and again in London the night of the concert.
Turns out Usher was here in Atlanta but skipped performing at the Young event because he was taking his son to camp. We’re told he showed up at the end of the evening to wish Young a happy birthday.
Notables in attendance at Young’s birthday bash included former Gov. Roy Barnes and Braves legend Hank Aaron.
Biden received the Chairman’s Award, an “honor .. given to an individual whose lifelong leadership has demonstrated excellence in areas that reflect Ambassador Young’s life’s work as Pastor (Community Engagement), Activist (Civil Rights and Civic Participation), U.N. Ambassador (International Humanitarian Initiatives) and Congressman and Mayor of Atlanta (Public Policy and Advocacy)” the organization announced in a statement ahead of time.
He wasn’t able to attend but sent his well wishes via a lengthy video tribute.
“The world needs the leadership of the United States now more than ever,” Biden said. Veering into some political commentary without actually mentioning the current occupant of the White House he said, “You haven’t heard this president talk about values. He talks about deals. There’s a lot of doubt and frustration in the world right now.”
Biden and Young go way back, having served together in Congress. The former veep was of course a longtime Delaware senator before joining President Barack Obama’s ticket and Young once served as a Georgia congressman.
“I consider among the great honors of my life I got to serve with you,” Biden said, adding that Obama “stood on your shoulders to be president of the United States.”
The ebullient Clark, co-founder of Atlanta’s renowned Ron Clark Academy, was the first recipient of the night and the most effervescent, demonstrating some of the original rap numbers he creates to teach lessons in a memorable way. When he first came to Atlanta more than a dozen years ago, he recalled, he met Carolyn, then Andrew Young.
“We sat there and he gave me advice. He didn’t know me from Adam. He just knew I wanted to make a difference,” Clark said. “Character is what you do when no one is looking. He is just that type of person.”
Other award recipients were Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland, national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington; CNN commentator, activist and Dream Corps founder Van Jones; and recording artist/producer and global philanthropist Akon.