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.