Bryson Ambrose Young, a UC Berkeley senior and member of the Afro House co-op, died in his sleep Sunday night at his home in San Jose. He would have turned 21 in August.
Remembered by his peers for his dedication to academics, Young studied Spanish and was on the pre-med track. In addition to taking challenging upper-division courses, he often spoke about his aspirations to one day serve low-income communities as a bilingual doctor.
Spencer Simpson, his roommate at Afro House, said he was “extremely passionate” about his career goals.
“He was one of those people who had their life in order,” Simpson said. “He was fiercely committed to bringing together communities of color, which is why he wanted to become a bilingual doctor.”
Young’s summer plans included interning at the Roots Community Health Center in Oakland, a nonprofit organization that provides health care services to uninsured and low-income East Bay residents.
In addition, Young was involved in several extracurricular activities on campus. He played in UC Berkeley’s mariachi band, Mariachi Luz de Oro de Berkeley; was active in his co-op; and enjoyed taking karate classes.
His friends and family described him as a “performer at heart” and recounted instances when he would sing around Afro House, including an impromptu living-room performance on Cinco de Mayo with his mariachi band.
His favorite song to perform was “Como Quien Pierde Una Estrella” by Alejandro Fernandez, according to Afro House President Joel Jenkins.
“The sad beauty of its lyrics speak to how I and all of my housemates feel about losing him,” Jenkins said.
Brandi Young — Bryson Young’s older and only sister — also remembered moments from his childhood when he was eager to share his musical talents with others.
“He used to come with me to choir rehearsal when I sang on Sunday during church service,” she said. “He would cry for me just because he wanted to be up on the choir stand with me.”
Young’s housemates and friends highlighted his outgoing personality and iconic laugh that touched those he met and worked with. According to Kashawn Campbell, who also roomed with Bryson, his sensitive demeanor made everyone around him immediately at ease.
“From the moment we met, there was something between us that we shared,” he said. “It was easy for me to be able to share personal stories with him and to have a joyous time with him on so many levels.”
Campbell also said that although he knew Young only while they lived together at Afro House, he felt like they grew up together.
“We lived like brothers together, watching cartoons, playing Super Smash Brothers, just reliving moments from our childhood together,” he said.
Although Jenkins said the members of his co-op are “stunned” by Young’s sudden death, they are coming together not only to mourn but to celebrate his life as well. The house is speaking with his family and hopes to put on a memorial service in honor of his life.
“We’ve lost our mariachi but know that each moment we had with him was a great gift,” Jenkins said. “Those gifts will always be with us as we continue to celebrate his life.”
Zina Nwamaka Ogunnaya, a UC Berkeley senior who became friends with Young after they took several pre-med classes together, said that the entire black community on campus was deeply affected by his death. She called his passing a “call to action” among communities of color on campus.
“Knowing Bryson, he would want the act of grieving to be transformed into an opportunity for us to affirm one another,” she said.
Young is survived by his parents, Joseph and Yvonne Young, and his siblings, Brian and Brandi.
“He had so many doors opened for him at the time of his passing,” Brandi Young said. “We are all definitely hurt by his sudden death, but we rejoice knowing he spent his last days surrounded by friends and family who love him deeply.”