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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Beloved Bronzeville Storyteller Lorenzo Young Honored With Mural: ‘He Was All About Ancestors, History And Tradition’

Lorenzo Young was a gifted storyteller known for telling tales about Bronzeville's history — and for his big heart.

The Young family poses in front of the mural honoring late educator Lorenzo Young.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
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WASHINGTON PARK — A beloved South Side figure, known for his passion for storytelling and his big heart, has been honored with a new mural.

Lorenzo Young died from cancer in December 2020. Now, his friends and family have honored his memory with a mural in the Burke Elementary Community Garden, 5356 S. King Drive, a fitting backdrop for the man who worked to promote healthy eating in Bronzeville.

Young’s loved ones gathered Friday in the garden to celebrate him with a dedication ceremony, complete with performances from local artists and some of the elementary school students he mentored.

“Lorenzo was all about the ancestors and history and tradition. He kept that alive for so many of us, particularly the students at Burke as well as the various schools around the city,” said Amandilo Cuzan, who met Young through Bronzeville Alliance, a residents’ group. “He was at different schools all the time, getting to know principals, organizing workshops and tours for students. It was important that young people understood there was more to this community than what was on the news.”

The mural displays Young’s likeness against a banner that says, “Wall of Therapy.” It was created by artist Amoz Wright, who has collaborated with several organizations on art projects, including the White Sox, Cubs and DePaul University. The mural was funded by AMPT: Advancing Non-Profits.

Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
Laverne Young (second from left) talks to the audience during mural unveiling honoring her father, educator Lorenzo Young.

Young lived to share the storied past of the neighborhood, telling stories so vivid it felt as though the listener was walking South Parkway Boulevard at the height of the Great Migration or sitting in on a movement meeting at the Wabash YMCA, attendees said.

The love the third-generation Bronzeville resident had for his community was reflected by those in attendance for the ceremony, from Ald. Pat Dowell (4th) to Young’s daughters and former wife, all of whom said they remembered the man for his rich baritone voice and his love of making them laugh.

It was that voice that caught the attention of Dolores Gordon and Mama “Edie” Armstrong, members of a local storytelling collective, Asé. Gordon invited Young to a meeting, and as soon as he opened his mouth he had the room under his spell, she said.

Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
A Burke Elementary student decorates Lorenzo Young’s mural with a handprint.

“As soon as he started talking, people would stop themselves in mid-sentence. Generally new members are not allowed to tell stories until they’ve been there a couple of years, but we grabbed him right away,” Gordon said. “He was fabulous, and audiences would be hypnotized by how he’d talk about Bronzeville and his love for it. He’d tell us all the different versions of the neighborhood and we were just excited to hear it.”

Young’s style of storytelling was similar to that of the late historian Timuel Black, who taught Young as a student at DuSable High School, attendees said.

Young, a School of the Art Institute alumnus, also served as a docent for the Chicago Trolley and Double Decker tours, the Shoreline Sightseeing Lake tours and the Bronzeville Visitors Information Center tours.

Laverne Young followed in her father’s footsteps, becoming an educator and vocalist. As her father’s designated “road dog,” it wasn’t unusual to see them together at community meetings and events. Even as Young lived with cancer, he remained a fixture in the neighborhood.

“I talk about a seed being planted, and that seed a vine; and that vine a branch; and from that branch, fruits. Today is nothing more than the fruits of his labor. All of these fruits are here shining bright,” said Laverne Young. “So many people have so many good things to say about him. Even with him passing on, they’re still here to commemorate him, and that means so much.”

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