OKLAHOMA CITY – State Representative George E. Young, Sr., D-Oklahoma City, flows in and out of the news naturally, as a direct and inevitable result of his involvement in myriad community causes, and effective advocacy for District 99 at the state Capitol.
Young recently received an award from the United Way of Central Oklahoma for his work as a volunteer. The recognition came at the organization’s annual Snow Flake Gala, held at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Young received the John and Berta Faye Rex Community Builder Award, which “recognizes individuals who share the Rex’s vision in finding long-term solutions to community needs.”
Young said he was proud to be honored along with David Carpenter, an office at American Fidelity Assurance Company (Ray Ackerman Award) and Dennis Jaggi, a managing partner for EnCap Flatrock Midstream (Richard H. Clements Lifetime Achievement Award).
Young’s honor came as no surprise to anyone who knows the semi-retired minister’s philosophy while guiding the churches he has led: “I have always believed that if my church was not involved in the community, it wasn’t serving its purpose.”
Young, 62, has led a rich life and traveled many paths. He puts on no airs and makes no excuses for his missteps. He candidly acknowledges having ‘strayed from the path’ a time or two when younger, and says his missteps have been instrumental in making him who he is today. Perhaps that’s why he is slow to judge others.
He is the eighth of nine children (six boys and three girls) born to a housewife and a stonemason who had just an eighth-grade education but built both houses in which Mr. Young was reared in Memphis, Tennessee. Although their parents were poorly educated, all but three of the siblings finished college and four of them earned doctoral degrees.
Young’s beloved wife of 30 years, Dr. Thelma Chambers-Young, died February 10 of this year.
She earned a master’s degree in public health at the University of Oklahoma, and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Oklahoma State University. She was a minister of the Gospel and widely heralded in her own right, including as recipient of the Human Rights Award in 2015 from the Garfield County Church Women United.
Initially a Career Accountant
The man widely known in Oklahoma City as a minister started his career as an accountant. His high-school bookkeeping teacher was “an awfully nice lady who took an interest in me, and I fell in love with accounting,” Young says. So he enrolled at Lambuth College in Jackson, TN, where he played basketball, chased girls and received his undergraduate degree in accounting.
At that time a black American trained in accounting “could write his own ticket,” Young said. The FBI, for example, courted him because the agency was investigating white-collar crime and needed accountants to examine ledgers and make cases.
However, he joined Kraft Food Services, where he worked for several years: first in Carson, California, and then Oklahoma City. He resigned from Kraft when they tried to transfer him to the corporate headquarters near Chicago, Illinois.
God Called; Young Finally Listened
At the age of 30, “I finally acknowledged my calling.” He first felt the call “when I was 13,” he recalls. “The voice of God told me so” during a summer revival. Nevertheless, “I ran, for the next several years. God was involved in my life but I avoided the ministry.”
Working for Kraft, he earned an excellent salary, “but I was depressed and uneasy with my life.” A couple of years earlier his father had fallen ill and Young visited him in a Memphis hospital. “Just before he died he said to me, ‘I hope you get your life together.’ I have no idea how he knew what I was going through at that time. I hadn’t said anything to anybody.”
Young enrolled at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond, where he studied for the ministry along with non-profit management and leadership.
Then he entered Phillips Theological Seminary at Enid, to study congregational formation and earn his Master’s of Divinity (with honors). He was part of the last class to graduate from Phillips at Enid before the school moved to Tulsa.
Young’s first ministry was at a church in Boley, where he preached for 15 years. Then he moved to Oklahoma City in 1998 to succeed the retiring senior pastor at Holy Temple Baptist Church.
Along the way he received a Merrill Fellowship that enabled him to study at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1996.
Dr. You is also an alumnus of the Lott Carey Pastors of Excellence program in which he served as a missionary overseas (Georgetown, Guyana; Kingston, Jamaica; and Johannesburg, South Africa). Young spent three weeks in each of those countries.
Accomplishments at Holy Temple
Reverend Young cites several accomplishments during his pastorate at Holy Temple Baptist Church of which he is most proud:
* He coordinated the construction of Temple Gardens, an independent-living senior housing project on the campus of Holy Temple.
* An annual Back-to-School “block party” – resulting from a cooperative effort among churches in the community – produced 4,000 to 5,000 backpacks of children’s school supplies in each of the last five years of Young’s pastorate at Holy Temple.
* A relationship between Holy Temple Baptist and the First Christian Church in Edmond during the last few years of Young’s pastorate “broke down racial barriers.” The congregations worshipped together, and an annual Martin Luther King memorial service alternated each year between the two churches. (Young was an eighth-grader in Memphis when Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of a motel there on April 4, 1968.)
* Holy Temple was the first church to host the Whiz Kids program in northeast Oklahoma City. Whiz Kids provides mentors, friends and role models for disadvantaged children and helps them learn to read.
From the Pulpit to Public Service
Young had long wanted to enter public service. He was a high-school student in Memphis when Harold Ford, Sr., became the first African American elected to Congress from Tennessee. “I was bitten by the political bug then,” Young said. “But I vowed to God that I would not run so long as I was still a pastor.”
After 15 years in the pulpit at Holy Temple, Young retired about two and a half years ago. Although he thoroughly enjoyed being a pastor “I knew there was more I wanted to do with my life.”
He felt that the time was right when he filed for a seat in the Oklahoma Legislature almost three years ago. After Rep. Anastasia Pittman filed to succeed Constance Johnson in the Oklahoma Senate in 2014, Young filed for the open House District 99 seat vacated by Ms. Pittman.
Young won a Democratic runoff with 59.3 percent of the vote, and overwhelmed a Republican opponent in the 2014 general election, garnering 82.3 percent of the vote.
During his two years in the Legislature Young has become a specialist in children’s matters. But he’s no single-issue legislator, by any stretch of the imagination.
For 10 years he was a court advocate for drug addicts and DUI clients at CARE for Change, Inc. Previously, he was a certified family mediator, serving as a sort of referee in an effort to amicably resolve disputes between feuding couples.
He also was an adjunct professor at Mid-America Christian University in south Oklahoma City, where he taught preaching, urban ministry, and the Bible (Old and New Testaments), but he hasn’t had the time to continue doing so since he was elected to the Legislature.
Legislative Schedule Keeps Him Busy, is the mayor’s race in his future?
* Young is merely semi-retired from ministry. He still preaches two or three times a month, but maintains a hectic pace as a state lawmaker.
* The Oklahoma Legislature is in session each year for four months, February through May, but constituent issues arise year-round.
* Young was one of 48 individuals from across the nation who were chosen last year for the six-day Henry Toll Fellowship Program, one of the nation’s premier leadership development programs for state government officials.
* Young received certification in 2015 from the Council of State Governments’ Center for the Advancement of Leadership Skills, where he studied election reforms, reframing regulatory enforcement, supporting sexual-assault survivors, and several other public issues.
*He participated last year in the National Caucus of State Legislators and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Southern Legislative Conference last November (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/oklahoma-state-rep-george-young-in-delegation-to-center-for-health-care-services-in-san-antonio), and the State Innovative Exchange (SIX) conference in December.
* Young was a member of Class XX of Leadership Oklahoma City and Class XVIII of Leadership Oklahoma.
* This week, reporter William Crum for The Oklahoman included Rep. Young in a round-up of potential candidates to succeed Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
Young has two children from a previous marriage: a daughter who is a high-school administrator in Memphis, and a son who works in the music industry in Los Angeles and is the music director at a church in “the City of Angels.”
George Young relects, “I’ve been blessed in my life.”
NOTE: This is adapted, by editor Patrick B. Mcguigan, from an excellent profile of Dr. Young which was sent to CapitolBeatOK by Mike Ray. Ray is a veteran journalist who now serves on the Oklahoma House of Representatives staff.