FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
It's time now for StoryCorps Griot. Each Tuesday we bring you a story from this project that's recording black Americans across the country. Today we hear from Larry Young who grew up on a farm in Tennessee. The family business beckoned but Young wanted to go to college. Here he remembers trying to register for classes in the early 1940s.
Mr. LARRY YOUNG (Director, International Association of Lions Clubs): My dad, he wanted me to be a farmer. I didn't want to be a farmer so he wouldn't help me in school. So I put myself through school. I had $10 and I walked up to (unintelligible) office, threw my two five-dollar bills up there on the counter and I never shall forget what (unintelligible) says what are you planning to do? I said, well, I plan to make something out of myself.
He saw this country boy, took me over to the side. He didn't want to embarrass me. He said but you can't go to school with $10. I said, but I got to go to school. So he took me to the dean and he said here's a young man just trying to go to school with $10. What can we do for him? He said can you drive a truck? And I said, yes. I couldn't drive a truck, never drove anything. I couldn't drive a car let alone a truck.
So he gave me a job of hauling trash from one of the girl's dormitory over to the incinerator. I didn't know what I was doing but by the grace of God, I did it. That took care of my tuition, but they didn't know I didn't have a place to stay. I went up on the third floor in the dormitory and slept between two mattresses. And one morning, the matron of the dormitory came up and saw me, and his security.
He took me before the discipline committee. Two women I shall never forget, both of them broke down and cry when I told them my story. And from that day forward, I never look back. They gave me everything that I needed. And that's why I've always felt that as long as I live I was going to use my life to reach out and touch another life with hope.
I was the first African-American to be director of the Bureau of Food Sanitation for the city of Detroit Health Department. There was a young lady who came to the Health Department to work with us from Northern High School. She was hostile. She didn't want to be anything. She came from a family of seven, some of them are on drugs and she had every right to be mad.
So I sit her down and I talked to her. I said you see this big desk here? It wasn't designed for me. You see these drapes? They weren't designed for me. Do you see these fingers, way back in the (unintelligible). But you see where I am today, and she became a different person. She said, Mr. Young, when I finish high school, will you help me to get a job? I hired that young lady.
That's been over 19 years ago, she has two teenage kids, has a wonderful husband. She's an executive secretary today. That is the greatest thing I've ever done in my life. If you just put your arms around people, they will go forward in life and that's my mission.
(Soundbite of music)
CHIDEYA: Larry Young with his friend Clyde Cleveland(ph) at StoryCorps Griot in Detroit. Young retired from the Detroit Department of Sanitation in 1989. He went on to serve as director of the International Association of Lions Clubs.
The StoryCorps Griot booth is currently in Chicago. Its next stop is Oakland. All the Griot initiative recordings are archived to the Library of Congress. A copy of each interview will also go to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. To find out how to record your interview and to hear more from StoryCorps Griot, go to nprnewsandnotes.org.