Civil rights icon and statesman Andrew Young advised an audience of anti-racism activists on Long Island Wednesday night that they should widen their fight to focus on economics instead of confining the battleground to race.

"Discrimination is economic," he said to a crowd of about 200 people attending ERASE Racism's benefit at the Garden City Hotel, where he was honored. "We must allow our economy to expand."

He was trying to drive home the point that people should enter careers and create institutions and business links that can help communities thrive.

"Encourage your children to do something other than law, to get a Ph.D in economics or finance or to be a CPA," he said.

Young, a former church leader, was a friend and confidante of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He went on to serve as a congressman from Atlanta, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta.

He has had his share of controversy, including being fired in 1979 from his ambassadorship by President Jimmy Carter for apparently unsanctioned talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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Two years later, he was elected mayor of Atlanta, where he served for eight years. Since then, he has been a church and government adviser, including being appointed by President Bill Clinton to chair the Southern Africa Enterprise Development Fund to help the growth of small and medium-size businesses in southern Africa.

Earlier in the day, at the hotel, Young spoke with about 200 high school students from around Long Island. He told them about the issues he faced growing up in Louisiana in a segregated America. And he listened to them talk about the problems they face today.

He was recognized by ERASE Racism for his fight for others, said Elaine Gross, president of the anti-discrimination group.

"Young was honored because he is a living example of what not only did black people go through generations ago, but he actually did something about it and is still doing it," she said.