Isokan discussion celebrates Black History Month
Isokan, the African American/Black affinity group at Thayer, welcomed three distinguished guests to campus Feb. 3 for a wide-ranging discussion celebrating Black joy and Black excellence. The Friday morning assembly coincided not only with Black History Month but with the last day of Diversity Week at Thayer.
The guests — Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health; Michael Curry, an attorney who currently serves as CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers; and Tanisha Sullivan ‘92, an attorney and current president of the Boston branch of the NAACP — shared their experiences and insights during a panel discussion moderated by Martin Nyagilo ‘24 and Teri Homicile ‘24. Annadelle Agbonjiazoe ‘25 had the honor of introducing the day’s panelists.
“Black joy is necessary,” said Minter-Jordan, who noted that so much of the Black experience, at least in the mainstream understanding of it, is negative and doesn’t fully tell the amazing stories of Black culture. She added that joy is a wonderfully human emotion which connects everyone.
“Joy is something we all feel,” said Minter-Jordan, a member of the board of directors of The Boston Foundation and one of the founders in 2017 of the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, which provides philanthropic support to community groups and coalitions fighting systemic racism and racial inequality in Massachusetts.
Curry defined Black joy as “resilience and celebration in the face of struggle.” He noted the many cultural contributions Black Americans have given society in spite of numerous obstacles but singled out contributions to blues, jazz, hip-hop, and other musical genres.
“Music is one of the greatest gifts we’ve given,” said Curry, a past president of the Boston branch of the NAACP as well as a past member of that organization’s national board of directors.
Sullivan emphasized another gift, that of an innovative spirit, which the Thayer alum defined as the ability “to make a way out of no way.” She also cautioned the audience not to see Black joy as a caricature of itself, as a belief that members of the Black community will be happy no matter what situation presents itself. Such a Pollyanna approach, she said, ignores the work to be done.
Sullivan shared that her relationship with Thayer is a complicated one. She credits her alma mater for helping her to grow and understand herself as a Black woman — “It was in that space that I really learned to lean in,” she said of her Thayer experience — but added that, as a student of color, it was hard not to see the inequalities on campus when it came to both student and faculty representation. That divide kept her away from Thayer until she felt the school was sincerely making progress in terms of racial equity; she accepted an invite to return to campus in 2017. Later in the conversation, the civil rights leader highlighted the importance of such representation at Thayer and beyond.
“Until the lion tells his story, the story will always be told by the hunter,” said Sullivan, quoting an African proverb.
In addition to serving as a moderator, Nyagilo joined Paige Johnson ‘26 to open the assembly.
“What Black joy is to me is community,” said Nyagilo.
Johnson pointed to Black excellence and offered the example of painter Jacob Lawrence, who chronicled life in America from his point of view and was one of the first nationally recognized Black artists in the United States.
One particular highlight of the assembly was Upper School English Faculty Caroline Kautsire’s “Color Coordinating,” a spoken word poetry performance celebrating Black joy and excellence while addressing the obstacles to that joy and excellence.
“Allow me to think in color,” said Kautsire at the start of her performance before adding: “I am rich with melanin.” The poem’s gladness is countered midway through with the line: “May I be honest with you? I don’t want to die for being Black.” With high energy the words pivot back to affirmation: “So, dear world, remember: my skin is a God-given robe.”
Kautsire thanked the Thayer audience for giving her the opportunity to share her story. “To me,” she said, “Black joy is the freedom to express and celebrate your Black-lived experience unapologetically.”
At Thayer, Isokan serves as both a voice and a support group. The group facilitates events and meetings to uplift, enlighten, and educate not only Thayer’s Black community but the entire Thayer community. Events are geared towards creating growth in the areas of academics, community service, and social events.