|Living the American dream
By Archie D'Cruz » When Eva Young gave birth to little Johnny in Savannah, Georgia, on February 6, 1940, the odds were stacked against the boy. He was born into a family living in abject poverty. He was black in an America where equal rights were still a dream. And, when he was 11 months old, Eva Young passed away at the young age of 27.
That someone could battle such odds and go on to become a three-time Ambassador for his country is as much a tribute to Johnny Young's determination as it is to the American system.
Family legend has it that before she died, Eva Young turned to her husband's sister and said: "Please take this boy and raise him and one day he will make you proud."
Johnny Young, US Ambassador to Bahrain and a highly respected diplomat, has done that and more.
After his mother's death, little Johnny lived in an extended family of uncles and aunts until they moved north to Philadelphia in 1947. They lived there only briefly before moving to Washington Delaware for a few years, and then returned again to Philadelphia.
As a child, Johnny's thoughts were more about having fun than about what he might like to become.
"Perhaps I had some ambition of becoming a butcher like my father, but that was not a lingering goal," he recalls.
When he did look at career options, he chose accounting, "a field I had some aptitude for". He obtained a certificate from Temple University in Philadelphia and in 1960, began work as a Junior Accountant for the city government.
Young advanced rapidly in his work, but he also continued night studies for his university degree - studies that would go on for eight and a half years.
Then in 1964, he was picked as a US delegate for an international conference at American University Beirut.
It was his first major trip abroad. It was also the turning point of his life.
He still remembers the joy he felt at participating in the conference. "Because of that experience I knew I wanted to work in the international arena," he says.
After that visit, Young was a driven man. He looked at options in his own field that might allow him international exposure. When he found that goal unattainable, he decided to switch careers and finally got a break with the US Foreign Service in 1967.
"As fate would have it, I am so pleased that things have worked out as they have. I could not be happier," says Young.
As in any career there have been ups and downs, but there is no doubt as to what Young considers his biggest achievement. "Becoming an Ambassador for the first time, then for the second time, and then for the present third time," he says unequivocally. "That is indeed extraordinary as few of my colleagues are lucky enough to have this honour for a first time."
He has, he says, exceeded any expectations he might have had of succeeding in his career and life. "The fact that someone of my very humble beginnings could rise up through the system to be a representative of a truly great nation like the United States is a testimony to the kind of system in my great country and the value and benefits of its meritocracy."
But satisfaction over his successes is also tinged with some sadness. "One regret is in accepting that perhaps my wife has sacrificed too much of her goals and aspirations in support of my career, although my achievement has been a team effort.
"A bigger regret is perhaps a selfish and personal one in that my children now seem interested in other professions than mine," he mused.
Young may be at the pinnacle of his career but, refreshingly for someone in his position, says he never loses sight of the fact that he is also a family man.
"I always attempt to fulfill my professional requirements, but I also always try to keep in mind that the present glorious position in which I find myself is temporary and will not last a lifetime, whereas my personal life and my relationship with my family must be kept in the forefront of what I do. In short, family must come first."
The US Ambassador says there is no real formula for success.
"I am a firm believer in hard, dedicated and imaginative work. My advice to all persons starting out is to strive for excellence in all you do and do it with diligence and determination. Also be principled in all aspects of your personal and professional life.
"Finally, I would suggest not letting ambition get in the way of being kind to people and being humble in all you do. This may sound trite, but the rewards from them are often beyond one's wildest dreams."
What does it take to make a good leader, we asked him.
"Leadership, in my view, is the ability to persuade others through example and inspiration to follow and support your efforts," he replied. "Leadership also requires the ability to nurture others to success, to take risks, to be decisive, to see beyond one's present situation and into the future, to assume responsibility and to be possessed of complete and total integrity. It is the use of these skills and talents in varying degrees that makes leadership effective."
In Bahrain, he says, because of the cultural context, leadership is demonstrated more through personal example and relationships than in other cultures which are more impersonal in style.
What vision does Johnny Young have of Bahrain in the 21st century? Perhaps as the central point for international businesses looking to expand operations to the Gulf, he says.
"Maybe Bahrain needs a slogan to sell its advantages as a regional centre. For example, in Washington DC, we sell it as a 'capital' city. Bahrain could bill itself as the "Pearl of Headquarter Countries'.
"The future," says Young, "burns bright for this Pearl of the Gulf."
Published in the Visitor's Complete Guide to Bahrain 2000. Johnny Young completed his stint as US Ambassador to Bahrain in 2001,taking over the post in Slovenia for three years. He has since been appointed Career Ambassador (equal to four stars in military rank).