Councilman David Cummings stood on the corner of Orange Road and Cedar Avenue in the South End of Montclair Saturday, thinking back on Celess Young — a longtime barber and mentor to countless members of the community.
Young owned and operated Young’s World of Beauty on Orange Road for decades, until retiring in 2005. Many first had come to know him before that, at the Young and Brown Barbershop he’d co-owned with his brother-in-law, on Bloomfield Avenue.
Young’s World of Beauty was one of the earliest businesses to thrive in the neighborhood, Cummings, who represents the Fourth Ward, said. It had been started in the late 1970s and still stands today, he’d later tell Montclair Local.
“It was here before all of them,” Cummings said Saturday, when he and others had gathered to honor Young’s memory, and celebrate his life with a plaque in a triangle park that bears his name. “He saw what his community could be. He came here and he was successful.”
Young, known to many in the community as “Mr. Young,” died in 2016. Young’s World of Beauty Orange Road, across from the plaque’s location, is now operated by his son-in-law, Marc S. Williams.
Those gathered Saturday said Young did far more than cut hair — he shared wisdom and insights with a community he cared about deeply.
The dedication followed a car caravan by the Montclair African American Heritage Foundation, taking the place of the organization’s usual annual parade. This year’s grand marshals were Montclair residents Myrna Hinton and Margaret Stewart. The ambassador for the event was Father Charles Brady, a former pastor at St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church, founded in 1931 as an African American Mission in the township of Montclair.
“He would drop at least five pearls of wisdom in your ear so you were wiser when you left than when you came in,” Jeffrey Grayson, one of the several speakers at the event whose lives had been touched by their connection with Young, said. “Mr. Young not only wanted your haircut to be tight, but your mind to be right.”
Roger Terry, a former deputy mayor and former deputy police chief, said there’s always been something special about the wisdom Young shared.
“He was the one who convinced me to become a police officer and make a difference in our community,” Terry said. “That was Mr. Young.”
Deputy Township Manager Brian Scantlebury spoke about the many conversations he had with Young.
“If you had those one on one conversations with him in his chair, you left that chair either learning something or with the nugget you had to think about going forward,” Scantlebury said.
Dr. Renee Baskerville, a former Fourth Ward councilwoman, had worked in 2016 to pass the resolution that named Celess Young Park.
“Many of us have memories of the barbershop when he was on Bloomfield Avenue, and even before many barbershops were doing women’s hair, Mr. Young opened the door to everybody,” Baskerville said. “People didn’t go there just to get the best cuts in town, but they would go there to get life lessons.”
State Sen. Nia Gill, representing the 34th Legislative District that includes Montclair, said the plaque commemorating Young is about celebrating Montclair’s history. She and Assembly members Thomas P. Giblin and Britnee Timberlake, also representing the district, had sponsored a state proclamation honoring young.
The proclamation “stands for all of our ancestors who made a way out of nowhere,” the state senator said.
Giblin told those gathered Montclair is a great community in part “because of the mosaic we have in the Fourth Ward/South End — many people who have been successful in their lives.”
County Commissioner Brendan Gill — who, like Nia Gill and Giblin, lives in the township — said there’s an obligation “to remind those who want to be part of this community what the history of this community has been, and what it took to get here.”
Maxine Young, Young’s, thanked the community for coming to celebrate her father’s memory and his legacy in Montclair.
“Most people know that Mr. Young’s barbershop was more than a barbershop,” she said. “You would step inside, and find deep thoughts, thought-provoking discussion about everything from sports to politics. It was a show to fill your soul, guaranteed to walk out feeling respected and full of wisdom. That’s the legacy my father left us.”
An earlier version of this post misattributed a statement made by Jeffrey Grayson.
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