What Manner of a Man?
As big of a man as Ivory Young was his true assets were understated. The 56-year-old Atlanta City Councilman passed November 16 after a courageous battle with Multiple Myeloma. He was one of 15 councilpersons who decides on whether or not to fund Arthur Blank’s Mercedes Benz Stadium, the development of the Gulch, and the expansion of the Atlanta Beltline. No small ticket items.
My relationship with Ivory was personal and political. When I relinquished the city council seat he held at the time of his death, it was first filled by Councilman Michael Bond, followed by Young. Councilman Young charted his own course, but did not hesitate to call and ask for advice when he needed it. I was careful not to offer it unless it was solicited barring a few occasions.
Ivory was keenly perceptive and always looking out to push his constituents forward. I remember in 2011 when the Atlanta School Board chairman Khaatim Sherrer El resigned to take a position in another state. Ivory called me and asked if I would be willing to serve on the Atlanta School Board on an interim basis. At the time I was serving as Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff for DeKalb County, so I politely declined. But I told him I knew of someone better than me—my wife, Nisha, who had been in pre-K thru-12 education for nearly a quarter of a century. He agreed and immediately went to work supporting her in what turned out to be a successful appointment.
That was Ivory; his word was gold. I was flattered that of the tens of thousands residents of the district, he turned to us, saying “When they asked me for help to identify qualified candidates, I thought of no one else but the Simamas.”
After Nisha’s interim term, Young worked hard to get her elected to the school board because he saw how much she contributed to the Board during the short period she served as as an interim board member. In a world where politicians risk little, Ivory backed up his support with tangible action. He did not count the cost before acting; he made a decision based on what he thought was right, then he acted upon it. He took his oath of office seriously.
Of course Councilman Young would go out of his way to support a former councilman, but I watched him work in community meetings. Always quiet and more inclined to listen than to talk. But the reason why he has served for such a long tenure is that he got things done for his constituents. All the projects I planned and identified seed funding for, Young brought into fruition: Historic Westside Village, Westside Beltline, the streetscapes on Martin Luther King Drive and Joseph E. Boone Blvd., Rodney Cook, Sr. Park in Vine City, and much more.
Now, Ivory could be a bit absent-minded at times. I remember sitting on stage at Georgia Piedmont Tech getting ready to give the state-of-college keynote in 2017 when I get a call from Ivory, right before I take the podium. He said, “Am I supposed to be there now. I’m so sorry I screwed up.” I said “Councilman, no problem, we will be together soon.” The thing that impressed me about this is even when he “screwed up,” he always strove to do the right thing. He did not lie or make up an excuse, he came clean, admitting, he “screwed up.”
My last major encounter with Councilman Young was in July of this year. He was aware of the problem I had encountered in trying to purchase a house for my daughter, who is a school teacher, who wanted to return to Atlanta from Brooklyn. I complained to him how every house we attempted to purchase in Washington Park, investors would outbid us, offer cash payments, pay all closing costs, and close within a week. He agonized with me over this problem, how it ultimately drove up the cost of housing, making it often unaffordable.
Finally, my wife and I found a house for my daughter, four houses down from our home, where my daughter grew-up and where I live, today, and have lived for the past 38 years. Ivory assisted in every way possible.
One thing he did not live to see, the bringing down of the burnt out house across from my daughter’s new home. When it finally comes down, I will think of Ivory.
Councilman Young was a statesman in a world of petty politicians. He was civil, ethical and always military polite. In a political world where the new normal is meanness, insult, and isolation, Ivory brought us together and proved the old adage that you can gain more using honey than hitting your opponent over the head with a hickory stick.
Ivory and I had this habit of calling each other Councilman. Well, goodbye, brother Councilman. I will see you in the morning.
Dr. Jabari Simama was former Atlanta City Councilman, District 3