Proud Perseverance: UF Dentistry “Brothers” Unite Toward a More Diverse Profession
Gator Dentists Cecil White, Jr., D.M.D., M.S.D., FACD, and John Dozier, D.M.D., M.S.D., go way back. Forty-four years, to be exact, in the UF College of Dentistry Zeta Class of 1977, when White was one of two Black students in the class.
“My appreciation for him started as a classmate,” Dozier said. “Cecil lives up to the adage: ‘There’s no greater wisdom than kindness.’ I have observed tremendous wisdom in Cecil. He has charisma. He’s a wonderful person, he embraces everyone, has a remarkable personality that captures the essence of dentistry — service to others — and inspires me as a friend and practitioner.”
Now Dozier and his wife, Martha, are honoring White and his inspirational legacy by initiating and funding the Dr. Cecil White, Jr. Scholars Fund. The objective of the fund is to support scholarships for D.M.D. students who have demonstrated a commitment to breaking down barriers and welcoming individuals from groups that are underrepresented in the dentistry profession and at the college.
“As a first-generation dental student, it was a bit overwhelming when I realized just how expensive dental school is,” first-year dental student Destiny Corbett said. “It is truly a blessing knowing that my debt will be decreased. The Cecil White, Jr. Scholarship Award made staying in-state for dental school more affordable and eased a lot of anxiety I had pertaining to funding my dental education.”
The largest underrepresented minority group at UFCD is the Black student population, and the desire is to continue fostering a diverse environment that produces the next generation of oral health providers and role models like White.
“I am extremely grateful to the Doziers for choosing to honor Dr. White in a way that directly impacts a cause so personal to him. This fund adds a tangible asset to our efforts to increase diversity among our students, residents, faculty and staff. It’s a complex challenge that won’t be swiftly overcome. However, each small step brings us closer and this is a truly meaningful step,” Dean A. Isabel Garcia, D.D.S., M.P.H., said.
The year was 1990. It was an open afternoon at an American Academy of Periodontology meeting in Dallas that Dozier and White began their endearing and enduring friendship. The bonds that were created spanned decades to come, through weddings, family sleepovers, births of children, and the death of loved ones. Dozier, his private practice and family in Tallahassee, White and his family in Atlantic Beach.
“During a free afternoon at the meeting, we both realized we wanted to visit the Texas Book Depository,” White said. “We toured the facility and, ultimately, wound up sitting on the infamous grassy knoll outside. We talked of many things for about two hours and one of them was the topic of race.”
“John is an exceptional person. Exceptional,” White said. “With every visit, I learned more about John’s history, and that of his family. They were special people. They supported their community both civically and financially. His father was one of the first white physicians in Tallahassee to make rounds in what was the only hospital for Black citizens at that time, Florida A&M University. That’s indicative of the kind of people they are. Hearing all voices, and respecting the dignity of all.”
In his 40-plus years as a dental practitioner, White has already made an enduring impact on the profession. He served for 28 years in the Navy Dental Corps, retiring at the rank of captain, has worked in private practice, and led a number of professional organizations, including the Jacksonville Dental Association and the Northeast District Dental Association. He is currently a trustee of the American Academy of Periodontology, secretary of the Southern Academy of Periodontology, and teaches three days a week as a clinical assistant professor in the department of periodontology at UFCD in Gainesville.
White’s father was a head waiter and his mother a schoolteacher in Tampa. With a desire to stand on his own two feet, he applied for an Armed Forces Health Scholarship with the Navy to fund dental school. He also had savings from his previous summer job as a lifeguard for the City of Tampa. When he completed dental school, he began his service commitment in the Navy. After Dozier and White both completed periodontology residencies, White continued in the Navy while Dozier started his private practice and served over 20 years as a clinical professor at UFCD in periodontics.
White married in 1988 and has two children. His daughter Elizabeth Paige is a public defender in Washington, D.C., and his son Cecil White III, is a sports agent for William Morris Endeavor in New York City.
Despite his successes in life, White has spent much of his career wondering ‘Why?’ Why the underrepresentation of African Americans in dentistry?
“In our quiet moments we’ve known, but not acknowledged, the inadequacies and disparities in our profession. However, we press on,” White said.
In 2019, an American Dental Association article addressed the lack of diversity in dentistry. It said that, while underrepresented minorities had increased overall, the increases were of Asian-American and Hispanic dentists. The percentage of professionally active Black dentists had decreased from 3.8% to 3.7% despite efforts to increase representation.
George Floyd’s death changed something, White said. “When we saw people in the street, in this nation and across the globe, marching for justice, something changed. Many people said, ‘Enough … enough.’ Perspective depends on the lens in which you’re looking through. Sometimes you question, ‘What is my purpose?’”
“Racism is so systemic in our society we often don’t even recognize it,” Dozier said. “I have Cecil’s friendship to improve my ability to perceive beyond my own experiences. People’s reality is their perception. When I look at our profession, I have concerns.”
The concern prompted the Doziers to pledge $125,000 to establish the fund and immediately address disparities and open paths for students to follow in White’s footsteps at UFCD. The mission is already paying off. The DMD Class of 2025 boasts seven students, including Corbett, who identify as African American, and one that identifies as multiracial. All received scholarships from the fund.
“Good people, I’ve learned, come in a variety of packages,” White said. “The only reason that I’m able to sit here now is because there are many people — whose skin colors reflect a rainbow of tones — that have been good to me, been kind to me, and given me a chance.”
It’s clear that both Dozier and White care deeply about the meaning of this movement, and the strides the college is taking toward creating a more inclusive environment and culture. Their hope is that the change will be long-lasting and sustained, even after they’re gone.
Supports students at the UF College of Dentistry who have demonstrated a commitment to breaking down barriers, and including and welcoming individuals from underrepresented ethnic or socioeconomic groups who are also underrepresented in the dentistry profession.