Dr. Lorenzo Merritt was born in Harlem New York to Gladys and Charles Merritt on October 25, 1931. When he was a teenager, his family (Sister Delores and parents) relocated to Portland Oregon where he attended Jefferson High School and achieved recognition awards at the state level in cross country track and field as well as with the Golden Gloves as a boxer. He graduated from Jefferson in 1949 and after returning to New York entered City College and pursued studies in mechanical engineering, obtaining certification as a marine mechanic during his work on aircraft carriers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He began his early professional career applying his engineering training as a journeyman Marine Machinist serving as a mechanical designer at General Instrument Company in Hicksville, N.Y. He then moved on to serve as a supervisor of planning, scheduling and management information systems for petrochemical plant development operations at Stone & Webster Engineering Corporation in Garden City, NY. Thereafter he became involved in developing the Planning and Scheduling Management department of the Power Gas Corporation of America in New York City while simultaneously completing his bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University in 1971 and taking courses in business and personnel management at Hofstra University. He earned his MSW from Adelphi in 1972 and his Doctorate of Social Work with emphasis on Social Policy and Planning in 1977.
Over the course of his life, Dr. Merritt was a strong, community advocate whose astute leadership and fearlessly strident voice led to the development of a number of high impact social programs and entities. He deeply believed “in the capacity of young people to grow emotionally, intellectually and socially through guidance, encouragement, enlightenment and challenge” and made it his personal mission to develop that potential in every young person he encountered as a clinical social work practitioner. Lorenzo was always committed to “giving back” in service to his community and to the supportive advising and instruction of others. During the 1970s into the early 1980’s, he founded the Northshore Guidance Center and Tri-County Community Action Programs, served with the Family Service Association of Hempstead, NY and was Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk County, NY, a role in which he managed a multi-million dollar ($5.5) conglomerate of 12 Head Start Centers, five local action centers, three senior nutrition centers and two outreach centers with a total staff of 250. He became Board Chair of the Economic Opportunity Commission of Nassau County, NY with overall program planning and evaluation of a multi-million dollar agency and management of a staff of 500. He was an active member of the NY State Community Action Program Directors Association and Nassau County Title XX Task Force, as well as the National Association of Black Social Workers. He was recognized for his leadership and outstanding work as Social Worker of the Year in 1973 and recipient of a Builder of Brotherhood Award at the National Conference of Christians and Jews, among many other awards received over the course of his life.
He was also an instructor at a variety of institutions including Adelphi University, State University of New York School of Social Work in Old Westbury, and the USC School of Social Work in Los Angeles,
California. Over the last half century, Dr. Merritt was a mentor to hundreds of students, culminating in his most recent role as a Doctoral Committee Member for the University of Southern California.
Dr. Merritt continued to apply his engineering solution oriented approach to social policy and programming when he moved to the West Coast in 1985 returning to the physical environment he always found most enjoyable and good for his health. There he continued his work as a family therapist at Foothills Family Services from 1985 until 2015. He also served as the Executive Director of Project Heavy West managing a Juvenile Diversion agency with case management, graffiti removal, counseling and referral services positively impacting thousands of youth and their families’ lives from 1987 to 2003 when the state ended funding for the program and he had his first of many heart attacks. He also served on the board of directors of Kaiser Permanente Model Neighborhood Program and the G.T.E. Model Neighborhood Program, among others.
Continual curiosity of world cultures has led him to travel with his family to experience cultures outside of the US including driving trips from New York to Acapulco and across Europe as well as Africa, Cuba and Jamaica. An avid reader, Lorenzo also studied aviation with retired Tuskegee Airman Perry Young at Mitchell Field on Long Island and was well known for his innumerable “tinkering” projects. With his engineer’s mind he could “fix” almost anything and he kept a well-stocked toolbox ever ready for his next project.
It can truly be said that Lorenzo lived a great life -- and he absolutely lived it on his own terms. In his prime, he shook extra hours out of each 24 hour day and squeezed at least 75 minutes out of every hour. He was a tireless rascal, a handsome devil, a political junkie, an avid skier, a man who deeply loved his family and his people. His was a fully realized life, led out loud, intentionally, purposefully, and with the heart of a warrior. He will be remembered for his quick wit, incisive brilliance, his charismatic smile and soothing baritone voice when he was being cool, and his bellowing rant when you sparked his anger. Lorenzo loved life and he lived it to the fullest
Lorenzo Merritt DSW, 85, of Los Angeles, passed away on September 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Merritt is preceded in death by his brother, Charles Jr., sisters Denise, Charlene and Wanda and he is survived by his wife Juanita Coleman-Merritt, siblings; Delores Kyle and her husband Butch, Michael Hodges and his children Michele Hodges, Christian Hodges and Ayanna Williams, Michelle Hodges and her son Toure Harris, and Judy Sullivan and her children Jonai, Robert, Gulissa Sullivan; as well as his children Lori Merritt, Dr. Lisa Merritt, Kofi Merritt and his wife Adria; stepchildren, Kamau Coleman, Nattu Coleman, Kweli Coleman; nine grandchildren, Sharif, Kofi, Amara, Isa, Nayah, Kali, Reyn, Sage, Stokely; his favorite Aunt Jackie Buncamper and many loving cousins, nieces, friends and colleagues.
Memorial services commemorating his life will be held on Saturday, October 28, 2017 at 12:30 PM at The Veteran’s Memorial Complex Garden Room 4117 Overland Ave. Culver City, 90230, and 1:00 PM on Saturday, November 4, 2017 at Thomasina’s Event Space, 205-35 Linden Boulevard, St. Albans, New York at 1pm.
The family wishes to extend their gratitude to Dr. Aaron Ward for helping to maintain his quality of life for 3 decades of care, and to the Cedars Sinai Medical Group and Hospital for their years of dedicated service and technological advances which helped sustain and prolong this highly productive life.
In lieu of Flowers, donations can be made to The National Association of Black Social Workers in Dr. Lorenzo Merritt’s honor: