Willie L. Bryant, Sr., D.D.S.
Class of 1961
Magnum Cum Laude, Biology
Willie L. Bryant, Sr., DDS, was born in Goulds (Dade County), Florida to Claudia Mae Bryant and John Henry Ashley on October 6, 1938. This period marked the era of the Great Depression and Jim Crow. During this time, many families across the country were looking for work and trying to survive the harsh economic collapse that was on the horizon. The jobs that were available discriminated against people of African-American descent, leaving only a handful of jobs they were allowed to work. Dr. Bryant’s single, disabled mother had to work several domestic jobs to support her seven children, since their father did not offer any financial support despite their father’s success as a land owner in the Goulds’ community. His mother stressed the only way to escape their impoverished living conditions was through education.
Growing up in the Great Depression and Jim Crow South made it difficult to obtain an education. At various times, Dr. Bryant and his siblings worked as migratory workers selling fruits and vegetables to support the family. The Black educational system did not have the resources to adequately educate African-American youths as their white counterparts. Dr. Bryant and his siblings matriculated through primary school as their mother required all of them to verbally explain the thinking behind their daily completed homework assignments. Ms. Claudia Bryant never revealed to her children that she did not complete her high school education. Dr. Bryant would go on to graduate second in his class from Mays High School in Goulds. After graduation from high school, Dr. Bryant continued and finished his education at Florida A&M University (FAMU) in 1961. After graduation from FAMU, he served as an officer in the United States Army. While in the Army, he endured many hardships and experienced racial inequality. Dr. Bryant used military benefits to further his education. He graduated from Howard University’s School of Dentistry. Dr. Bryant remained involved in both universities’ alumni associations. He served as FAMU Alumni Association’s Chapter President and the Northeast Regional Vice President, before he became the president of the Ossining Howard University alumni branch where he began a sickle cell anemia screening project that reached over 1,200 individuals.
Dr. Bryant pioneered years in the field of dentistry. Dr. Bryant commenced this career as an intern at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1969, he later joined the staff of the FDR Veterans Hospital in Montrose, New York. He opened a small private dental practice in Ossining, New York before moving his family to Wesley Hills, New York in 1976. Dr. Bryant’s home practice grew as he focused on only providing necessary dental care. In addition to his private practice, Dr. Bryant worked at the New York State Dental Department, and in 1982, he became the Director of the Dentistry at Letchworth Village. He served in this position for more than 30 years. His offices at Letchworth Village provided dental care for developmentally disabled people. Dr. Bryant had stated that service to this population was his foremost achievement, his most rewarding experience and his lasting joy in life.
Dr. Bryant was a Hudson Valley civil rights activist for nearly 50 years. He had been affiliated with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since he was a student at FAMU. In addition, Dr. Bryant was active with the Rockland Human Rights Commission and a lifelong member of the NAACP. He worked with New York Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffe and New York state legislator, the late William Darden to create the Thurgood Marshall Monument. Thurgood Marshall successfully integrated the Hillburn Public School System in 1943, 10 years before the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Dr. Bryant was also one of the driving forces for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, District of Columbia.
Over years of service, Dr. Bryant was honored for his activism and volunteer work in the community. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from FAMU, the 2003 “Volunteer Beyond Excellence” Award from the New York Organ Donor Network for promoting organ and tissue donation, the Rockland’s Alpha Man of the Year Award in 2004, and the Rockland Buffalo Soldiers Award in 2006. He was inducted into the Rockland County Human Rights/Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2008. Dr. Bryant received the Howard University Westchester/Rockland County Distinguished Alumni Award in 2012.
Dr. Bryant’s impact on people remains immeasurable. As a lifelong member of the NAACP, he constantly worked to make sure everyone was afforded equal treatment and justice under the law. The honors and recognition that Dr. Bryant received in life do not measure the positive effect he had on individuals. The president of Nyack NAACP in New York, Frances Pratt, echoed thoughts of many who knew him, “Dr. Bryant was a warrior for social justice, a mentor of our youth. He made all of us proud of who we are. In my eyes, no one can fill his shoes.”