It was a warm summer evening when I got the call. After a long day of entertaining family members at my cousin’s seaside wedding, I was lounging in a tropical-themed San Diego hotel when I received a somber interruption from my former roommate and esteemed dance-enthusiast Kashawn. Upon my answering, he paused for a moment. Taking a deep breath, he uttered three words that would forever change my life: “Bryson has died.” Bryson Ambrose Young had been our roommate at the beloved African-American Themed Coop and, beyond that, was a shining example of one of the best types of people you can meet at UC Berkeley.
A committed scholar with a boisterous laugh and an ever-expanding knowledge of biology, his passing threw me off, considering I had seen him alive a few days prior to the recent end of our third year in college. The news rendered me inconsolable, the rest of the night fading into a blurry mix of disbelief and shock. Unable to process his passing, I maintained an attitude of passive denial for months afterward. Yet, after several tearful attempts to come to terms with Bryson’s passing, I would find solace in the realization that his life had given me a gift in the form of a greater perspective. In being relentless in who he was and tireless in his hard work, Bryson had shown me the true power and potential of our generation. More than just a buzzword, Millennials are the youthful architects passionately at work building a better world in which all people are recognized and valued regardless of who they are or where they come from.
An aspiring physician with enviable study habits, Bryson recognized early in his life the nationwide need for effective and accessible medical care in low-income neighborhoods. Moreover, his understanding of how such community-centric care required a level of cultural competency and compassion seldom found in these areas motivated him to become fluent in the Spanish language and Latin American culture. A self-proclaimed “future bilingual doctor,” Bryson understood that one of the best ways to reach people was not through fancy academic papers but in approaching them as equals with respect to their culture.
Fortunately, he was not the only maverick Millennial to recognize how cutting across cultures can bring people together. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and United We Dream bring together people of various backgrounds in a collaborative effort to challenge harmful systems of oppression; each one staffed primarily by impassioned Facebook users and Instagram artisans. As much as Bryson was his own person, he undoubtedly reflected the hundreds of Millennials voraciously committed to bettering their communities in a variety of ways.
Bry-Bry was also fearless in being his authentic self, never shying away from expressing the fullness of his being without apprehension. He led UC Berkeley’s mariachi band, participated in the Rotary Club and could be heard passionately singing as he studied in Afro House from more than a block away. He was fundamentally unashamed to be himself and nothing less — a trait reflected in fellow Millennials such as Amandla Stenberg, Opal Tometi and the god-queen Beyonce. Like many of the generation he is a part of, Bryson was not afraid to both challenge stereotypes outright and dismantle them entirely simply by existing.
Therein lies the power of Millennials that Bryson so effortlessly exuded. By simultaneously existing and resisting, this generation of student loan-addled Starbucks aficionados will continue to interrogate the ways in which the world has been structured against them. Be it the nationwide effect of anti-police brutality protests generating greater police reform or the increased pressure placed on state legislatures to recognize LGBTQ rights, Millennials like Bryson remain undeterred in their campaigns against oppression and pursuit of the greater recognition of the humanity of the oppressed. As wealth disparities widen and numerous communities of color face down the unyielding advance of gentrification, Millennials of all backgrounds are openly and aggressively contending with forces that either intentionally or unintentionally work to marginalize and dispossess.
Initially after he had passed, Bryson’s death left me overcome with a flurry of emotions I was unable to address for weeks afterward. Only in realizing that though he may physically no longer be with us, his spirit and his goals live on in people both familiar and foreign to him, could I begin to accept that I had lost a friend.
Bryson in many ways exemplified the fiery spirit that compels a crowd of people to interrupt a noted presidential candidate’s anti-immigrant rhetoric or to march across UC Berkeley’s campus proclaiming the worth of Black lives. An academic by trade, Bryson was one of the millions of Netflix-loving community-focused children of the 1990s who had grown up to find the world had sold them many lies and was now fiercely dedicated to illuminating the truth in whatever way came naturally to them. He was unapologetically Black and Golden and more. His life and his passing taught my friends and I not just to see the future but to work for it. And that’s what we’re going to do.
Spencer Simpson writes the Friday column on Blackness at UC Berkeley. Contact him at [email protected].