RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Time now for StoryCorps, recording your stories across the country.
Today, how Larry Young went to college. He grew up a farmer's son in Tennessee in the 1940s, and he was determined to get off the farm. Here, Larry Young remembers putting that plan into motion when he tried to register for classes at a school nearby.
Mr. LARRY YOUNG: 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 the bursar's office, threw my two $5 bills up there on the counter, and I never shall forget the bursar said, 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've got to go to school. So he took me to the dean and he said, here's a young man 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. Heck, 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 it scared her. She took me before the discipline committee - two women. I shall never forget, both of them broke down and cried when I told them my story.
And from that day forward, I never looked 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. And I was the first African-American to be the 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 were on drugs - and she had every right to be mad. So I sat 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 South, in the sticks, I picked cotton. But do 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.
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MONTAGNE: Larry Young talking to his friend Clyde Cleveland in Detroit. He recorded his interview as part of StoryCorps Griot. That's a collection devoted to African-American stories to be housed at The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. All StoryCorps interviews are archived at the Library of Congress.
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