George Young: A Grateful Spirit

Conversation

To Many Oklahoma Citians, He’s Pastor George Young. To the rest of the community and state, the name George Young is synonymous with nonprofit service and leadership. During our recent exchange at a local restaurant (and every conversation leading up to it), we knew it would only be a matter of minutes before Young was recognized by a fellow volunteer from one board or another.

Young’s passion for endeavors that strengthen the community by helping youth to succeed may stem from his being eighth of nine children. As the recently retired pastor of Oklahoma City’s Holy Temple Baptist Church turns his sights toward a larger ministry of public service, his reflections on his own upbringing speak volumes about leadership by example.

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What’s your hometown? Memphis, Tennessee.

How long have you been married to your wife, Thelma? 28 years. She’s originally from Alabama, but we met in Oklahoma City at church.

Where did you go to college? Lambuth University in Memphis.

Do you come from a large family? I’m the eighth of nine children.

Wow! You were practically the baby. I was the baby for a long time. I’m still mad at my little brother about that.

What do you value most in your friends? Honesty.

What do you think they value in you? Honesty.

Do you have a favorite hole-in-the-wall in Oklahoma City? Yes. VZD’s. They know my name.

What do you wish you’d never sold or given away? My old basketball trophies. After so many moves, they lost importance. I should have left them at my mom’s.

How long ago did you enter the ministry? About 30 years ago.

What do you think you’d be doing today if you hadn’t taken that path? I’d be the head basketball coach at a major college.

How much time did you spend on the hardwood? I played all through junior high, high school and some college.

Position? Point guard.

What did basketball teach you about life? It truly takes a team to accomplish anything.

What should people learn to do? Be kinder.

What’s the best decision you ever made? Marrying Thelma.

Who are your real-life heroes? My mother and father.

What did you learn from your parents? The importance of getting an education. A strong work ethic. To walk with pride and conduct yourself with humility.

Is there anything you won’t eat? Boiled okra.

What’s overrated? Power.

What’s less important now than it used to be? What I feel people think of me.

What’s more important now? What I think about myself.

What kind of penmanship do you have? It’s pretty good.

What do you count among your greatest achievements? The relationships I have with people. Not just a number of friends, but having real connections and mutual respect with people.

What are the odds you’ll pick the fastest drive-thru lane at the bank? About a 75 percent probability.

What do you bring to a crowded room? A smile.

When they make a movie about your life, who should play the role of Pastor George Young? Don Cheadle.

Were your parents or teachers wrong about anything? I wouldn’t say they were “wrong” about anything, but I don’t think they really knew what a big world this really is.

What do you believe that most people don’t? Humility is powerful.

What do you hope people will never assume about you? That my thinking is limited to the context in which they may know me. For example, if someone knows me as a pastor, I wouldn’t want them to assume that I think a certain way – my thinking is broader than that.

Do you collect anything? Yes. I love to collect foreign stamps and African-American history stamps. I also love collecting foreign currency.

Are you early, late or on time? Probably a couple of minutes late, but I’ll call if I’m running late.

Is there anything you’d change about your childhood? I’ve loved to read since I was a child. I would dedicate myself to reading even more. I truly believe the one key to life is to be able to read, to understand what you read and to enjoy reading. More than anything else, it’s a ticket to anywhere.

What are you most grateful for? My parents. When I look at it now, it’s incredible what they tried to teach us and give us. They instilled in us to do better. It was an expectation, but never forced or coerced.

What message would you put inside a fortune cookie? “You will encounter more obstacles in life. Fight on!”

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