By Jasmine Glover
The Meek-Eaton Black Archives Museum recently held a public reception for the Willie L. Bryant, D.D.S. Exhibit and students who will benefit from his endowed scholarship. More than 80 people, including Bryant’s family and friends, Florida A&M University students, and the family of the scholarship recipients attended the event.
Bryant was a civil rights leader, who practiced dentistry for more than 30 years in Wesley Hills, New York. He passed away in 2015. He was an advocate of education and building bridges between generations. His family knew that funding a scholarship for young people would be important to him. Scholarships will be awarded with interest accrued from the Bryant family’s $50,000 contribution.
Amy Bryant, Dr. Bryant’s daughter, believes in the limitless possibilities the endowment can offer students.
“A lot of children, like my father, did not come from a lot; so, every bit helps. I’m an educator also, so that means something to me. To know that children have the opportunity to change the trajectory of their life and receive funds from an endowed scholarship with my dad’s name on it when they thought they couldn’t, is extremely gratifying.”
The Bryant Exhibit took two years to complete from its initial concept. The Archives’ leadership decided to focus on the pioneers of medicine and science in the new space on the second floor. Bryant’s exhibit is an extension of the theme “Standing on the Shoulders of John.”
“A major catalyst for this was the opportunity to highlight those individuals who are major contributors, but not necessarily written about. The theme, “If I Can See Further, It’s Because I’m Standing on the Shoulders of John” lets us know that we can’t overlook these civic leaders and community activists that have worked hard and given themselves to their people. And they deserve to be our next example,” said Museum Director Nashid Madyun, D.M.
Bryant’s wife, Goldie Bryant, played an essential role in recreating his office in the museum. She focused on transferring measurements, pictures and equipment of his home office in New York to Florida. “His son and I had a company come by and pack up everything so there wouldn’t be any breakage. I’m a mathematician, so I’m good with numbers and placement. I then took graph paper and I drew his office to scale with where everything was in it. And I also took pictures and put them with the scale drawing.”
The layout of the large dental machinery and tools, sink and counter space, cabinets and drawers, Bryant’s awards and family pictures give an ambience of a small dentist office.
“When I first saw it, my initial reaction was ‘Where’s Will?’ Whenever I went into his office that’s where he was, so when I walked into the exhibit. it was overwhelming because it reminded me of Will standing there doing dental work,” said Goldie Bryant.
The event’s program included recognizing the recipients of the Willie L. Bryant Sr., D.D.S. Endowed Scholarship. They are incoming freshmen Cameron Washington, a chemical pre-med student from Cape Coral and Shayla Webster, a pre-dentistry student from Orlando.
Both awardees are excited about walking in their parents’ footsteps by attending their alma mater. According to Washington, his dad taught him about FAMU early.
“Ever since I was little, my dad has been pushing FAMU, and I see the benefits of coming here now. Being able to be around people that I know, love and trust the most feels good,” said Washington.
As a student who could possibly sit in the same seat as Bryant once did, Webster had a lot to say.
“It feels like this is meant to be,” said Webster. “This is my dream school and to receive a scholarship from the family of a man who lived his life practicing the career that I am studying is like God put me here for a reason.”
Washington and Webster aren’t the only Rattlers to thank Bryant for the opportunity to get a degree from the University. Before his death, Bryant was heavily involved in the FAMU National Alumni Association for the Northeast Region. He assisted Former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries, Ph.D., in the recruitment of many students from New York, including Tony Award Winner Anika Noni Rose, former editor-in-chief of Ebony Magazine Mitzi Miller, and more.
During the reception, FAMU Scholarship Progams Director Dedra O’Neal spoke on behalf of Humphries. Through her speech, the audience learned the amount of dedication that Bryant had for his alma mater.
“He made my job at FAMU easier,” said O’Neal. “Dr. Bryant was an unusually supportive member of the FAMU Alumni Association. As president, I knew that I could always count on the good Dr. Willie Bryant to fiscally contribute as well as give his time of keeping FAMU strong and vibrant.”
This exhibition has a permanent home in the Meek- Eaton Black Archives Museum located on FAMU’s campus.