O’Bryant Institute is ‘home away from home’ for Black students at Northeastern

headshots of two graduates
Cheryl Daniel, left, and Dylan Gates, both 2023 Northeastern graduates, pose for a portrait before the annual baccalaureate ceremony held by the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute. Photos by Matthew Modoono and Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

After completing her undergraduate studies in journalism at Dillard, a historically Black university in New Orleans, Cheryl Daniel was admitted to the graduate program in media advocacy at Northeastern University. 

“For me, it was hard to transition,” Daniel said. 

However, soon after moving to Boston, she discovered the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute.

“The John D. O’Bryant Institute gave me a home away from home and a sense of familiarity,” she said. “I would say it is the center of the Black community at Northeastern.”

Earlier this month, Daniel and about 150 other African American graduates received special certificates from the institute during its annual baccalaureate ceremony at Blackman Auditorium. Many of the honorees were first-generation college students.

“The ceremony serves as an opportunity for African American students to congregate for one final time before they transition from Northeastern University,” said Richard O’Bryant, director of the institute.

He reminded the audience that these resilient students attended college during the COVID-19 pandemic, significant civil unrest after the death of George Floyd and a rash of mass shootings.

“Stay connected to each other and don’t miss the opportunity to help,” O’Bryant said.

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun attended the event to congratulate the students and their families.

“You should be proud of your accomplishments,” he said.

He advised new young specialists to explore the world and connect with other alumni.

Richard Harris, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion and director of the Northeastern’s Program in Multicultural Engineering, called the celebration a “crowning moment” of all the hard work that they went through.

“The elders sent us here a long time ago, and you are the fulfillment of their legacy,” Harris said.

Dylan Gates, a 2023 graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and computer science, said it was great to have a community to celebrate together.

Gates credits O’Bryant and the institute for keeping him informed about various opportunities and helping finance his study abroad in Denmark.

Gates, who grew up in Houston, was part of the Ujima Global Leaders Program, which helps students engage with communities on campus, throughout Boston and around the world.

While in college, Gates participated in research in Northeastern’s Robotics and Intelligent Vehicles Research Laboratory, or RIVeR Lab, was part of the robotics team, completed three co-ops and a study abroad.

Gates said he enjoyed being a part of the many events put on by the institute and the  Northeastern Black Student Association. These organizations allowed him to meet some of his best friends, he said, who can be real with each other and tell him when he is right or wrong. 

“We’ve been through ups and downs we laugh about and cry about a little bit as well,” he said.

He believes these friendships were earned and will go on for many years ahead.

Gates will continue studying at Northeastern to get a master’s degree in engineering management. He sees himself in product development in the future.

Last October he founded a startup business that provides a range of services to anyone with a product idea, from product development, prototype designing and testing to advice on starting a business, financing and marketing of a product.  

Getting a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Graduate Fellowship administered by the institute, Daniel said, gave her financial freedom to focus on her graduate studies.

Daniel grew up in Oklahoma City.

At Northeastern, Daniel became the president of the Graduate Students of Color Collective that helped relieve pressures of academia and provided a community for graduate students of color.

She also spent six months working on co-op as a communications intern for Massachusetts state Sen. Lydia Edwards.

She now has a 10-year career plan which includes gaining experience at a nonprofit that advocates for abundant housing for all and zoning reform in Massachusetts; establishing her own advocacy firm; and, one day, running for the U.S. senator seat to represent the state of Oklahoma on the Capitol Hill. 

Alena Kuzub is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at a.kuzub@northeastern.edu. Follow her on Twitter @AlenaKuzub.