By Dave McFadden
Manchester University’s future Intercultural Center at College Avenue and East Street [in North Manchester, Ind.] will be named in memory of alumna educator and activist Jean Childs (’54) Young.
Jean’s life reflected brightly on our mission to respect the infinite worth of every individual and improve the human condition. A child of the segregated South and a partner in the civil rights movement, Jean’s work dispelled stereotypes and fostered understanding. She built relationships and bridged divides. I can think of no better namesake for our Intercultural Center, a symbol of Manchester University’s commitment to learning from differences.
Recently, Jean’s husband, Andrew Young, sent me a copy of his book, “An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America.” In it, he wrote: “Much of this story is a result of Jean’s study at Manchester. I doubt that it could have happened if I’d married anyone else. Peace and blessings, Andrew Young.”
The note is an amazing testimony to the power of relationships and the ripples of everyday work. Andrew visited Jean here when she was a student. He served in Brethren Volunteer Service and attended a meeting at Camp Mack. “The Church of the Brethren in many respects is my spiritual home,” he once wrote. It was in his experiences with the Brethren “that my ministry, my sense of direction, indeed my personality and character were shaped.”*
Jean Childs followed two older sisters to Manchester and earned a degree in elementary education. Weeks after graduating, she married Andrew, who would remain at the side of his close friend Martin Luther King, Jr. throughout the civil rights movement. Later, Andrew became a US congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta.
Jean had a distinguished career as a teacher and an advocate for human rights and children’s welfare. In 1977, President Carter appointed her chair of the US Commission of the International Year of the Child. She also established the Atlanta Task Force on Education, served as co-founder of the Atlanta-Fulton Commission on Children and Youth, and helped develop Atlanta Junior College.
She served Manchester as a trustee from 1975 to 1979 and received an honorary doctorate from MU in 1980. She died of liver cancer in 1994 at the age of 61.
At the site of the future Jean Childs Young Intercultural Center, our university family is dedicating a Peace Pole in memory of three international students killed last winter in a traffic accident. Nerad Mangai, Brook “BK” Dagnew, and Kirubel Hailu wove themselves into the fabric and hearts of our community in the short time they were with us. We miss them.
The pole will remain at the site until construction begins on the new building early next year. That facility will include a permanent memorial to our three young friends and, when the building is finished, we will reinstall the Peace Pole permanently.
As you may recall, the Young Intercultural Center traces its roots to AAFRO House, established in the early 1970s. Over the years, its scope expanded as a home to MU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), Black Student Union, African Student Association, and Hispanos Unidos. The center also is a home away from home for our growing international student population and serves as a gathering space for students of all backgrounds to learn from each other.
The new building will feature a permanent display honoring Jean Young. Plans also call for OMA office space, a lounge area, a multipurpose room for events, open-concept kitchen and dining, and a resource room, library, and computer lab.
If this project–so core to Manchester’s values–inspires you to help, I encourage you to direct your gifts to the Office of University Advancement at 260-982-5412.
* “Messenger,” Oct. 1977, Vol. 126, No. 10.
— Dave McFadden is president of Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. Find out more about Manchester University at www.manchester.edu