Making a Reunion Count
Alumni posing in front of Capen House for a pre-barbecue
photo are (top, l-r) Bill Ewing, A84, Troy Cooper, A84, Angela
Faison Strobe, J85, (center, l-r) Mary Lee Wallace, J86, Michelle
Sajous, J84, Gabe Gomez, A74 (bottom, l-r) Gerald Gill, professor
of history, Sandra Leek, J76, Pamela Brewster Owens, J84,
and Wayne Owens, A81.
Troy Cooper, A84, and Wayne Owens, A81, are taking a moment to
relax in Capen House before the start of the Black Alumni Millennium
Reunion. The event, from October 20 to 22, has brought some 150
graduates back to Tufts on Homecoming Weekend, the first such gathering
for the Pan-African Alliance since the 25th reunion of the African
American Society in 1994. Alumni have come from as far as Missouri,
Louisiana and California, and represent almost 50 years of graduating
Cooper and Owens are quick to credit the capable assistance of
their classmates, particularly Mary Lee Wallace, J86, who helped
pull together innumerable details-including panel discussions, a
barbecue and an awards dinner-in just two short months. Support
from history professor Gerald Gill and Lisa Coleman, director of
the African-American Center, also helped with the logistics of the
As they talk about Tufts in the pre-Reunion quiet of the Capen
House living room, it's easy to see how another factor-their own
personal commitment to Tufts-set the stage for a successful event.
Cooper, a national collections manager for Marriott International
in Washington, D.C., was an "extremely shy" undergraduate with exceptional
talent on the basketball court.
Division I schools tried to recruit the six-foot-seven teenager
who'd honed his skills on the courts of the Boston housing projects,
but he opted for the smaller academic community of Tufts. Cooper
soon made a name in Jumbo athletics, earning the distinction of
leading all-time scorer and breaking 30-year records. Still, he
found it hard to adjust to academic life among his classmates, or
"brainiacs," as he calls them, and at one point seriously doubted
that he'd graduate. Then he was introduced to alumni at the annual
Hoop Homecoming and had a chance to see what a graduate could do.
"All these alumni were coming back and they seemed like such normal
people to me!" he recalls. "You'd find them around campus making
time to talk to people. I found strength in the alumni coming back;
it helped me get through a difficult time and I made a pledge to
myself that-not if I got through Tufts, but when-I was going to
come back, too."
He then runs down a list of names and watches closely as they are
written down: Mike Tapscott, Michael Rubin, Oscar Burgos, Mark Craigell,
Mudarris Jihad (Darrel Brown), Leroy Charles, Reginald Graham, Timothy
Scaggs and Ed Tapscott. "Those guys pulled me through," he says.
" I told them how important they were to me for the first time in
1994, and the rest I told in 1999, and it brought tears to their
eyes. You never know what's going through someone's head when they
see an alum, and I used these guys to help me. My thought was that
if it helped me to see these successful alumni talking about their
lives and careers after Tufts, then I might be able to do the same
for someone else someday. It took me two years after graduation
to keep my word, but I did it and I'm still doing it."
Owens, a stockbroker with Prudential in Boca Raton, Florida, didn't
hesitate to sign on when Troy turned to him for help. His Tufts
experience was also pivotal. President of the African American Society
and a popular Tufts DJ, he was best known for his radio show on
WMFO, "RIBS," or "Rhythms in Black Satin."
"Tufts taught me the rules of life," he says. "In the inner city
where I grew up, you know only one set of rules. But when you get
into another world, you learn that the rules change. Life has taught
me just as much as Tufts. I now say there is no situation that I
cannot thrive in. The key to a successful person is that kind of
He also met his wife at Tufts, Pamela Brewster Owens, J84, and
stayed in the area while she finished up. "So I was close to Tufts
for almost ten years," he says. "That's a long time, and it was
an important part of my life." It took work, he granted, for some
people to consider coming back. "Sometimes it meant a lot of cajoling
and convincing. But I always said: 'While you might have had a problem
with the administration while you were here, you come back for the
people, for the four to five years you were here that were important.'"
Mary Lee Wallace, J86, director of planning and analysis at George
Washington University, shared similar feelings and joined the cause.
"When I see something going on and a need to be met, I step up,"
she says. "I helped draft a letter to the president to communicate
for the Black Alumni Association what Tufts means to us, and we
invited him to participate. After that, we worked over the Internet.
It is remembering that 'we go to this together.' It could not have
been done without the Internet," she adds. "It's a great example
of the power of technology to pull people together."
For Owens, gatherings like reunions help "understand your own
mortality and think about the good times you had at Tufts-not just
the education, but how somebody gave something of themselves, so
we could come here. The message of this event is: It's time for
us to do something now, not only financially. It is also time for
us to ask the administration, What are you doing for the black students
who come to Tufts? We can be a very effective presence."
Homecoming got under way with a reception on Friday evening at
the Cohen Auditorium Art Gallery that also included a slide show
and discussion given by Professor Jo Anna Isaak of Hobart and William
Smith Colleges, and curator of the exhibit "Looking Forward, Looking
Black." On Saturday, activities started off with panel presentations.
The first, "The Current Status of African-American Faculty, Students,
and Staff and Curricula Issues,"gave President John DiBiaggio, Provost
Sol Gittleman, Vice President Mel Bernstein, Dean of Students Bruce
Reitman, and Director of Financial Aid William Eastwood an opportunity
to express their ideas about recruiting more black undergraduates
and graduates. The entering Class of 2004 is now eight percent African-American,
and the total undergraduate population is 5.6 percent African-American.
On the theme "There is life after Tufts, make it what you want
it to be," alumni participated in two other panels: "Economic Entrepreneurship
and Community Empowerment" and "Graduate and Professional School
Education or Employment in the Private and Non-Profit Sectors."
Friends and classmates then gathered on Capen House Lawn for a
barbecue and met up again that evening at the Holiday Inn in Somerville
for a dinner dance and awards ceremony. The ceremony paid tribute
to Professor Gill by making him an honorary Tufts alumnus, acknowledging
his vast service to black alumni, including researching and writing
Tufts' first historic record of African-American at Tufts.
Alumni who received Kente cloth in recognition for their help
with Homecoming planning and for service to the Tufts African-American
community were Cooper and Owens, Judge Inez Smith-Reid, J59, Trustee
Emeritus Gabriel Gomez, A74 (former assistant director of the Afro-American
Center), Sandra Leek, J76, Michelle Sajous, J84, and Mary Lee Wallace.
For those who attended, the Reunion stands as an important achievement.
"It was an unbelievable event," says Doug Harris, A82. "It was
an opportunity to bring the past together with the present and future,
in hopes of supporting one another and making Tufts as diverse and
great an institution as it can be." Cooper anticipates that the
Pan-African Association will continue to grow in numbers and enthusiasm.
As testimony, he cites the popularity of a web site started in January
that now has nearly 1,000 people who access the site daily-graduates
from as far away as Russia, Africa, Egypt and South America. (Access
to the site can be gained through contacting one of the graduates
listed at the end of this story.)
In the end, adds Owens, that vital link, whether on the web or
at reunions such as Homecoming, will build its effectiveness on
shared values. "You have to know that in the dynamics of the black
family, a lot of what we learn is through our parents and our grandparents;
we learn through the oral tradition. I think this is what we have
done this weekend. It brings us together as elders for younger people
to whom we can bring some wisdom of experience."
For web information and access contact: Wayne Owens at 561-488-5501
or firstname.lastname@example.org; Troy Cooper at 800-638-8108 ext. 88826
or email@example.com; or Doug Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.