The Storyteller

Screenwriter. Director. Actor. Author. These are some of the titles listed on St. Francis de Sales (SFDS) alumnus Kenny Young’s resume, but Kenny prefers to describe his work more simply: “I’m a storyteller,” said Kenny. “I’m passionate about telling stories. We’re all storytellers, whether they’re the stories we’re sharing, or the stories we’re living.”

Kenny, a partner in the Los Angeles-based production company, James Young Entertainment, says that his Alma mater provided him with a strong foundation for storytelling. “I learned a lot about writing and symbolism from [former English teachers] Mr. Modesto and Ms. Thometz; that’s what started to awaken my desire to write.” Kenny also credits Mr. Modesto with introducing him to the discipline of daily journal writing. “I keep a journal to this day, and I think that has really helped me see my life as a collection of stories.” Perhaps drawing on his experience giving acceptance speeches, Kenny is quick to list several additional former teachers/administrators who guided him on his path, including Mrs. Lepore, Ms. Cooney, Mr. Foster, Coach “Kacz,” BJ Nelson, and Principal Schultz.

After graduating from SFDS in 1989, Kenny earned his bachelor of arts in theater from Columbia College. He immediately pursued film and theater projects, but for the first several years had to find other work to pay the bills. “I had like 900 jobs,” laughed Kenny, “but none of them were careers; they were all to subsidize my film and theater work.” While at Columbia, Kenny struck up a friendship and collaboration with fellow South Sider Carl Seaton, with whom Kenny produced several short films.

One of those short films would play a pivotal role in bolstering Kenny’s early career. While in the editing stages of “One Week,” a feature film he had co-written and starred in that chronicles seven days in the life of a man waiting for results of an HIV test, Kenny and his crew ran out of money. After seeing Kenny’s short film, “Tissues,” Hollywood director Robert Townsend hired Kenny to write a script for him, which allowed Kenny to finish production. “One Week” premiered at the Acapulco Black Film Festival in 2000, winning best U.S. film, and screened at four other film festivals, including the Chicago International Film Festival.

Since that first film, Kenny has written and directed three additional films, including “Bachelors,” which won best director and best narrative film awards at the 2015 American Black Film Festival. In 2016 and 2017, Kenny parlayed his love of Christmas into directing three television Christmas movies. Kenny's documentary directorial debut, “They Don’t Give a Damn,” takes a close look at the demolition of the Chicago housing projects and its effects on the community. Kenny called the film “the most time-consuming and most difficult project I’ve ever done,” but also one of the most rewarding. “It got me excited to do more documentaries because you can tell really different stories that way, with people sharing their life stories with you.

One of Kenny’s own life stories led to his first animated film, “Chance,” which tells the story of dog fighting from the dogs’ perspective. “I was visiting a friend a few years ago in Atlanta, and a friend of hers had this pitbull I really connected with,” explained Kenny. “As we were leaving, the dog’s owner told me that the dog had his first fight the following day, to the death. It really shook me and stayed with me,” said Kenny. “I wanted to tell the story through the dogs’ perspective.”

Having recently sold a script for a horror film, Kenny is humble about his broad artistic range. “I try not to limit myself to genres; I think storytelling is universal. I’m always trying to challenge myself and step outside what I normally do.”

Kenny was inducted into SFDS’ Hall of Fame in 2009, and in 2013 published “Whuppins,” a collection of short stories based on his life experiences in Chicago and Los Angeles. When asked what advice he would give to current students about pursuing their passion, Kenny didn’t hesitate: “The first thing is to just go out and do it. A lot of people call themselves ‘aspiring actors.’ Don’t aspire, just do it.”

Kenny encourages others to find their passion, and to do for a living what they would do for free. “Don’t chase the money, chase your happiness, because if you do what you love, you’ll love it so much you won’t care about the money, but you’ll do it so well, the money will follow.”