Tribute to a mentor and friend

Nov. 29, 2011, will probably come and go without much notoriety. The same was not the case 14 years ago. The inevitable became reality, and most of Detroit’s media outlets led with the breaking news story, “The death of former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young.” After a long bout with emphysema, the charismatic man who held the distinction as Detroit’s first black and longest-serving mayor was gone. 

I met Sen. Young the weekend before the 1973 primary election for mayor. I was 12 years old. I went along with my dad to the “Young for Mayor” campaign office at Six Mile and Manor to pick up some signs and bumper stickers. I volunteered as many days as possible for the rest of the summer and on the weekends after school started. 


Former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young

I will never forget Nov. 6, 1973, the night of the general election. We were all at the hotel waiting for the final results. The city was filled with anticipation much like the nation was on the night Sen. Obama was declared president-elect. At one point during the evening, I observed people sharing with Mr. Young how they would like to be part of his administration to help move Detroit forward. I figured I wanted to be part of the change as well, so I walked up to the senator with all the seriousness I could muster and said, “Mr. Young, if you get elected, I want a job!” The senator laughed and said, “You do? Well, you worked hard so, I tell you what: you go to school, get a good education and we will find you a job.” I couldn’t believe it. I would get the chance to work for the first black mayor of Detroit!

Well, the mayor kept his promise. I may still hold the record as the youngest city intern. I was 14 when he hired me as a summer intern in his office. He later appointed me as the parks and recreation commissioner for Area 5. He said, “How ‘ya gonna have a parks and recreation department and not have some kids involved in the planning?” He hired me again in 1987 after I graduated from college where I served as an executive assistant on his staff for the last seven years of his administration. 

Mayor Young cared about giving young people opportunities. I know because I was one of many beneficiaries. In fact, the mayor would often say that he hoped of all the things he did, that the Foundation he established would be his most enduring legacy.

The Coleman A. Young Foundation (CAYF) provides college scholarships to talented Detroit youth with limited resources. To date, the Foundation has awarded more than $4 million to more than 400 Detroit students. It is a Foundation that can proudly boast of its 85%-90% retention rate.

CAYF is a Skillman grantee that has demonstrated its proven belief of giving back to this generation of children, and allowing young people to experience opportunities far greater than they normally would. Skillman and CAYF have partnered in an initiative, the 50 Promising Youth Legacy Awards, where $500,000 will be awarded to deserving, talented youth to assist with furthering their education. This is what Coleman A. Young was about.

Thank you Mr. Mayor, for the memories and opportunities from one mentee who will never forget!

Please visit the CAY Foundation website to learn more. Learn more about Mr. Young here.

-- Henry McClendon is a program officer with The Skillman Foundation.


Working for CAY
I wanted to return to my community in 1987 after working for Mayor Wallace Holland and Mayor Walter Moore of Pontiac. I was hired in 87' and stayed until the end of the administration. This office took me out of my shyness and afforded me personal growth. I learned to become a better speaker and on-the-spot writer. I loved to hear the Mayor laugh, so I made him laugh whenever possible. Working in the Mayor's Office enhanced my love for Detroit and gave me a better understanding of politics, the community, and the importance of our vote. Mayor Young could not be bullied by outsiders, the media or anyone else who was not a positive for Detroit, he was a powerful speaker and mentor. I appreciated the experience.

The office was more than just a group of people working together - we were a family.

Diane Crigler Washington
2/09/2012 at 1:12 am