The Legacy Of John D. O’Bryant

“If you’re not here to serve the students, you’re in the wrong place.”
-John D. O’Bryant

John D. O’Bryant, the first African-American to be appointed a vice president at Northeastern University, served in that capacity from 1979 until his death on July 3, 1992. During that period, he oversaw the workings of the African-American Institute and provided invaluable leadership in what were often difficult times.

John was born in Boston on July 15, 1931, and was educated in the Boston public schools. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston University. After serving in the U.S. Army, he worked as a teacher and a guidance counselor in the Boston public schools from 1955 to 1969. In 1969, he developed the Health Vocational Training Program at the Dimock Community Health Center and directed that program until he joined Northeastern as Associate Dean of University Administration in 1978. In 1979, he was appointed Northeastern’s Vice President of Student Affairs.

John served as president of the Boston School Committee, as national chairman of the Council of Urban Boards of Education, and founded a number of local and statewide education advocacy groups. Although he gained national prominence in the field of education, John maintained his humility and sense of humanity.

In 1992, John passed. His longtime staff described him as: ” A compassionate man who loved people; Unpretentious, never flaunting his status or influence; Always optimistic and reminding others to ‘keep things in perspective’; … A spiritual man who practiced his Christian beliefs.”

At its 25th Anniversary in 1993, the African-American Institute was renamed the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute. By naming the building in John’s honor we remember the legacy of a man whose love and guidance profoundly influenced countless lives.