Musician and change maker AY Young

The Robin Hood of the Music Industry

By Suzanne Pollak | Photography courtesy of AY Young

Born in 1991, Eagle Scout, Division I college basketball player, composer, singer, and producer of over nine hundred worldwide green concerts (each powered by sun-charged batteries), AY Young seems too good to be true. But he is. I recently sat next to him on a plane where, for five hours, we talked about his life, career, and world-changing goals. He looks like a tall North African prince, his painted fingernails hinting that this guy is as cool as they come (and as nice, too; he asked me as many questions about myself as I asked him). Young had just performed at Cannes Lions, the world’s largest gathering in the creative marketing community. He has performed at the Davos Economic Forum, where investors, business and political leaders, economists, and journalists discuss global issues. He has also given concerts on street corners and in parking lots. This man is a creative force with a dream to actualize.

Young grew up on a Kansas City block with four crack houses—the dividing line between warring Bloods and Crips gangs—in the worst school district in the country. He watched his dad mobilize the community, meeting with the chief of police, the mayor, and others to change the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Young’s mom homeschooled her children while starting the trend of planting gardens so people could have fresh food. Forty years later, the Ivanhoe neighborhood is considered one of Kansas City’s most successful and dynamic examples of a life-changing, revitalized community, with Young’s parents believed to be a driving force behind the turnaround. He watched change occur block by block, and now he plans to change the world city by city. It’s an audacious goal, but he’s on his way, step by step.

At thirty years old, Young was elected by the United Nations to be an SDG Youth Leader—one of seventeen and the only person chosen from the United States. SDG stands for “Sustainable Development Goals,” and the specific targets for each of the seventeen goals are daunting. From eradicating poverty and hunger to achieving gender equality and climate action, one might think tackling any of these issues is a mere pipe dream—admirable on paper but ultimately unachievable.

Yet tackling seventeen sustainable goals is just the kind of knotty problem Young set out to solve. This vision for a sustainable future is captured on a musical album he calls Project 17. Seventeen goals, such as clean water, clean energy production, and life-saving health care, are supported by seventeen nonprofit organizations, seventeen Fortune 500 corporate sponsors, and seventeen famous recording artists who will compose songs to inspire support. In addition, profits will be donated to sustainable development projects.

Another step—after Young learned that a billion people do not have access to electricity, he started powering his concerts with renewable energy. His Battery Tour is not just a concert or a tour but a global movement using the universal language of music to inspire people to make a change. The Battery Tour gets its name because Young stores solar energy in batteries and then converts it from direct current VC to alternating current so he can plug in and perform a concert. He has been told he is the world’s first sustainable musical artist—the first to power all his shows using clean, renewable energy. His mother says nothing is new under the sun, but the United Nations and others say otherwise.

In addition to performing over nine hundred concerts using only battery power, AY Young has made various appearances at global conferences and events to discuss the seventeen sustainable development goals of the United Nations SDG Youth Leaders and more.

Young believes people can create change everywhere on a local, community level, city by city, and state by state. To spread the word over the past decade, Young has held over nine hundred concerts wherever he could set one up—on street corners or in parks, driveways, and outdoor shopping plazas. The artist started giving eight- to ten-hour shows because of his parents’ example of working long hours. He says, “If you work at Wendy’s or McDonald’s, you work a minimum of a four-hour shift. You can’t just show up at McDonald’s and say, ‘Yo! Thirty minutes, peace guys, I am out,’ or, ‘Forty-five minutes, see you later, Best Buy.’ You will be fired super quick—tomorrow. To me, eight to ten hours means a full-time job, so that’s what I started doing.”

Young believes people can create change everywhere on a local, community level, city by city, and state by state.

Technology is the conduit and glue that makes it all happen. It allows Young to reach his audience, spread his message, connect his music to people, power his concerts, perform, and exercise his passion. The Battery Tour uses technology to fund, build, promote, develop, and bring awareness to sustainability and raise money to provide people with electricity. He wants each of us to plug into the world and community around us and figure out what action we can take to improve them.

When people share their audacious goals, it is inspiring—sometimes amusing or barely believable. Sometime during our long plane ride, Young told me his goal was always to change the world. I thought instantly that this guy might make it happen. His superpower is so strong that his dreams could come true. He could become the Robin Hood of the music industry.

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Visit and follow AY Young on Instagram @aymusik to learn more and keep up with this dynamic leader.

Suzanne Pollak, a mentor and lecturer in the fields of home, hearth, and hospitality, is the founder and dean of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits. She is the coauthor of Entertaining for Dummies, The Pat Conroy Cookbook, and The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits: A Handbook of Etiquette with Recipes. Born into a diplomatic family, Pollak was raised in Africa, where her parents hosted multiple parties every week. Her South Carolina homes have been featured in the Wall Street Journal Mansion section and Town & Country magazine. Visit or contact her at to learn more.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals to Transform Our World

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health and Well-Being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequality
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life on Land
  16. Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships to Achieve the Goal

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