Our History

Aiding In The Advancement Of Minority Dental Students Since 1972



In the late sixties, there was an eruption of protest from many groups in the United States. They felt that for too long they had been without a voice. There was an outpouring of frustration, anger, and resentment. There were cries of conflict and turmoil as groups across America demanded to be heard. From their cries emerged the impassioned voices of the women’s movement, the black power movement, and the student movement. It was during these years that frustration was symbolic of change. Their voices were raised in a chorus of despair, and everyone knew the times would change.

1970s – Reaching out to the National Dental Association

Each of these groups felt an overwhelming need to recruit others to their cause and to bond together to make their voices heard. It was time to negotiate for change in a society that had ignored them for too long. In Nashville, young African American dental students from Meharry also felt the need to organize the students at their school so that their voices could also be heard. Rueben Warren and John Maupin led the movement. In 1970, Rueben Warren wrote a letter to Dr. James Holley, III, the President of the National Dental Association (NDA).

In his letter he expressed concern for the welfare of African American dental students who he felt were voiceless and had no support, no guidance, and no connection to anyone. He asked permission to form a student chapter of the NDA at Meharry’s Medical College. Meharry was one of two historically black institutions that educated African American dentists. The other was Howard University. Dr. Holley approved the concept for the formation of a student group at Meharry. However, before Rueben Warren could witness the formation of this student organization, he graduated. But in his mind and in his heart the seed had been planted.

The American Student Dental Association (ASDA)

During this same time, seeds were strewn across the county and other student groups were sprouting up everywhere. In fact, there was another group being formed for dental students called the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). The ASDA was organized in 1971 at the American Dental Association headquarters in Chicago. Student representatives from fifty-five (55) dental schools attended a conference for the formation of this new dental student organization. During ASDA’s inception, an African American dental student from the University of Pennsylvania, Lewis Proffitt, was elected treasurer.

A National Black Health Organization for Health Science Students

Meanwhile, in another place and at another time, somewhere in between the letter to Dr. Holley and the formation of the ASDA…another dental student was involved in a movement. Harvard University’s Everod Coleman, had been invited to attend a get-acquainted party for the black dental students at Harvard in 1970. This party was hosted by Dr. Alvin Pouissant and all of the black medical and dental students in the Boston area were invited to attend. It was during this function that Everod Coleman learned that a national black health organization for students was being formed that would include all members of the health science professions. He was told that the first meeting of this new organization would take place in St. Louis in 1971. The National Medical Association (NMA) had received a grant in order to help form this organization. At that time, however, the NMA was against the idea of an all-inclusive student alliance, so they used the funds to bring students to the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) meeting in Detroit instead.

In the aftermath of the student rebellions of the sixties, there was an extremely rapid proliferation of student groups. During 1970 and 1971, there were many activities taking place in various parts of the country that were pointing toward the formation of a black organization for dental students. Revolutionaries with their own cause, students like Rueben Warren in Nashville, Lewis Proffitt in Philadelphia, and Everod Coleman in Boston, who had never laid eyes on each other, were bound together in spirit. They were ONE in the struggle for unity, in search for a better way. The Black health organization whose concept was first introduced to Everod Coleman in 1970 never really had the full support of the black health students. The concept died.

The Beginning of the Student National Dental Association

But in 1972, with grant support from the NMA, the SNMA invited dental students to attend their convention in Detroit. A group of 40 dental students from all over the country met as guests of the SNMA. The dental students from California even chartered a plane to get to Detroit. All of those students met with intense commitment to a common goal. After all, they were children of the revolution… sons and daughters of the movement. From that group there was an unbridled enthusiasm and an insatiable thirst for change.

Huddled together in a tiny hotel room, immersed in the hope of the future, the students met for hours. Lewis Proffitt, the young man from the University of Pennsylvania, compiled, edited, and presented the first SNDA constitution to the group. A dynamic leader had emerged, and the national organization for minority dental students had finally come to fruition. Proffitt was elected the first president of the SNDA, and the first constitution was ratified. At that time, it was agreed upon that there should be six basic objectives of the SNDA. These objectives were:

  • to promote and encourage an increase in minority enrollment in all dental schools,
  • to be committed to the improvement of dental health care delivery to all disadvantaged people
  • to provide time and skill in assisting those programs within the greater community which required some measure of dental expertise
  • to contribute to the welfare of dental students
  • to educate and involve its members in the social, moral, and ethical obligations of the profession of dentistry, and
  • to promote a viable academic and social environment that is conducive to the mental health of minority students.

Creating SNDA Regions and an Executive Board

In the beginning, the ten SNDA regions were patterned after those of the SNMA. Although there were roughly half as many dental schools, fifty-six, as there were medical schools in the country at that time, wherever there was a dental school there was a medical school. It was agreed that the Executive Board of the SNDA would consist of six nationally elected officers and ten regionally elected coordinators. The executive board along with the standing committees would constitute the policy making body of the organization. Chapter delegates would be selected from each school to serve as the legislative House of Delegates of the organization. It was also agreed that the annual meeting of the SNDA should be held in conjunction with the NDA. The one obstacle that had to be overcome was the official sanction and endorsement of the SNDA by the NDA.

The NDA would have to provide financial support, professional guidance, and serve as the authority and official parent organization of this new student organization. The student leaders knew that these requests were unprecedented and would create many challenges. So between March and July of 1972, Lewis Proffitt and the other newly elected officers of the young organization devised a plan they hoped would result in the ultimate approval several recommendations that the SNDA would make to the NDA. The plan included meeting with several key NDA members before their summer convention.

The 1972 NDA Convention

The deadline was July 29, 1972. The students arrived in New Orleans at the NDA Convention and several were able to participate in the “Charet,” a pre convention seminar on the status of the dental health in the black community. Some of the students that attended were Alton Henley (Howard), Lewis Proffitt (University of Pennsylvania), Leroy Sutton (Iowa), and other Howard students including Adrian Wilson, Hazel Harper, Jasper Robinson, Lee Moore, and Ryle Bell. Students from the University of Maryland that attended were Gerald Charles, David Scott, and Benjamin Jenkins. Also in attendance were Fred Coleman form Harvard University, Robert Berryman from New Jersey, and Willie Stevens from the University of California.

Meeting with NDA President-Elect Dr. Eddie G. Smith, Jr

Lewis Proffitt requested a meeting with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees and President- Elect of the NDA, Dr. Eddie G. Smith, Jr. He was granted that audience. Dr. Smith was sympathetic to the plight of the minority students and was very encouraging about the formation of the student association. He placed the SNDA on the agenda and arranged for Lewis to make a presentation before the powerful NDA Board of Trustees (BOT). In his speech, Proffitt made there requests of the NDA:

  • a student representative on the BOT
  • financial as well as moral support from the NDA, and
  • approval of the SNDA’s constitution which had been developed in concert with the aims and objectives of the NDA.

The BOT accepted all three of the SNDA proposals, but everyone knew the final decision would have to be made by the House of Delegates (HOD).

Although many NDA members were generally supportive, many were not. There was a huge generation gap, made wider by the revolutions of the sixties. Students were viewed as militant, rebellious radicals. Afro hair styles, “dashikis,” and beads were offensive to most NDA members, and only tolerable to a few. Their concept of students was loud music, raised fists, miniskirts, and platform shoes.

Students are the life Blood of the NDA

During the summer of 1972, several NDA members were forced to go to battle for the inclusion of the new student group. They fought long and hard to convince some reluctant members in the HOD that the students would be an asset and not a liability to the parent group. Their battle song was “ the students are the life blood of the NDA.” With astonishing eloquences and resounding conviction, the NDA warriors went to the front line.

Those who were on the battlefront were men like Dr. Eddie G. Smith, Jr., the great orator and Chairman of the Board of Trustees as well as President-Elect of the NDA; Dr. Joseph L. Henry, the Dean of Howard University College of Dentistry, Dr. Ellard “Punjab” Jackson, the Executive Director of the NDA; and Dr. James Holley, III, the Immediate Past President of the NDA. These were, to name a few, some of the most vocal proponents. When the votes were cast in the HOD, only two votes separated those in favor form those against the inclusion of the SNDA into the NDA family. The visionaries had prevailed! Dr. Eddie G. Smith, Jr. became affectionately known as the “father” of the SNDA. He treated all of the students like his children guiding them gently, yet firmly, through the rigors of constitutional protocol and teaching them the culture of the NDA organization.

SNDA’s First National Advisor – Dr. Joseph Henry

Dr. Joseph Henry was the first national advisor to the SNDA. Although he was the Dean of the Howard University College of Dentistry at the time, and had an extraordinarily busy schedule, he accepted the advisorship with commitment and dedication. He provided the financial, administrative, and moral support required to launch the SNDA. Between the meeting of 1972 and the first official convention of the SNDA in 1973, he spoke personally to each of the other fifty-five dental school deans to encourage them to support the new group. He challenged them to follow his lead by providing financial support so their minority students could travel to the NDA/SNDA meeting. He asked them to open their doors and their hearts to the mission of the SNDA, and they did. Even schools that had only one African American student saw to it that the one student had the chance to join the SNDA and the means to travel to the next SNDA meeting in 1973.

Planning the first NDA/SNDA Convention

For the year 1972 and 1973, Everod Coleman, who was then a senior dental student at Harvard, was appointed as finance chairman for the SNDA and was responsible for trying to raise funds for the first NDA/SNDA convention. It was his responsibility to solicit schools and dental societies to help send the dental students to the next convention. Hazel Harper was the first SNDA secretary and had been charged with creating the first mailing roster. Drs. Eddie G. Smith, Jr., and Joseph L. Henry, and several other NDA members worked behind the scenes to encourage their colleagues to support the students. Their goal was to identify and recruit more student members from across the country. As a result of their efforts, 47 students attended the convention in 1973. There were only 14 students at the first meeting in 1972. It was no small task to convene 47 registered dental students from across the country, but one by one students and schools were recruited into the SNDA.

Dr. Henry used Howard as the national headquarters and provided many in kind support services. Under the watchful eyes and guiding hands of the NDA mentors, the SNDA began to grow. These were men who were extremely helpful in promoting the SNDA during those formative years and cultivated an enduring and endearing bond between the NDA and the SNDA.

The Continued Support of the NDA

There were many things that NDA members did and gave to the SNDA during those early years. They gave more than the SNDA asked for… including the use of their facilities, their offices, and their personnel for mailings, telephone calls and convention meeting rooms. They even helped with program planning and providing speakers. There were also several dental societies that provided much needed financial support for the students to travel to the SNDA meetings. Across the nation, many schools formed SNDA chapters and implemented programs that would help strengthen the national body. During each convention, the NDA provided a complimentary hospitality suite for the SNDA, reduced room rates, and complimentary tickets to the many of the NDA events.

Throughout the seventies, the SNDA continued to flourish. At many of the institutions, however, as African American students graduated and none followed behind them, in some instances, the SNDA and the concept of the SNDA was lost. In several instances, the local SNDA chapters lost their continuity and there was a lapse in membership because there were no matriculating black dental students or faculty advisors to the SNDA that could serve in any kind of consistent capacity. Even though it was very difficult for some of the majority schools with few or no minority or African American students to sustain viability and maintain continuity, the national SNDA persevered.

1980s – SNDA Membership Grows

During the decade of the eighties, the true potential and power of the SNDA was unleashed. The membership rolls swelled to more than 700. It was during this decade that several projects and initiatives were started by the SNDA. The SNDA national table clinic competition was introduced at the NDA convention, the associateship program was implemented to partner senior dental students or recent graduates with established practices in need of dentists, and by 1989, plans were well underway for the formation of the NDA/Colgate partnership.

The Establishment of SNDA Scholarships

The National Dental Association Foundation/Colgate- Palmolive Scholarship Program was established to assist minority dental students. This landmark program awards scholarships for dental assistants, dental hygienists, dental students, and postgraduate dental students. Since its inception, the program has awarded more than $3 million in scholarships and research grants. The SNDA members have been the beneficiaries of this partnership. In 1991, the SNDA established a memorial scholarship fund in honor of Dr. Darryl Hawkins, a 1989 graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson who died in 1990 while jogging. In 1993-94, the L. Craig Alford Meritorious Service Award was established in memory of the deceased SNDA member.

SNDA Partners with Prestigious Black Organizations

At the turn of the decade and throughout the nineties, the SNDA was in full stride. SNDA members were Colgate scholars, research interns, table clinicians, national panelists and community service volunteers. In the mid-1990s the SNDA joined forces with the Summit Health Coalition, a group formed to address the problems of African Americans during President Clinton’s Health Care Reform movement. By 1996, the SNDA had joined the Board of Directors of the Summit Health Coalition (SHC). As a result, the SNDA now sits at the table with some of America’s most preeminent and prestigious Black organizations, including the NAACP, the NMA, the National Pharmaceutical Association, Black Nurses Association, the Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Black Caucus Foundation, the Black County officials, the National Association of Hospital Executives, the National Association of Black Social Workers, the Black Cardiologists Association and many others.

1997 – The Year of Firsts

In 1997, there were many “firsts” for the SNDA:

  • dental student representation in the SHC Congressional Speak Out, where for the first time a dental student joined the delegation that made visits to the legislators on Capitol Hill
  • the inclusion of a student member as a representative on the NDA Corporate Round Table
  • student participation in the NDA Leadership training institute and spokesperson media training program, and
  • representation on the NDA Strategic Planning Committee. These student ambassadors were also a welcome and refreshing addition to the NDA’s first overseas meeting – the mid-winter meeting held in Freeport, Bahamas, in February 1997.

1997 also marked the 25th Anniversary of the SNDA and the First Rites of Passage Ceremony, instituted by SNDA President Davida Hollerman, from the University of Kentucky School of Dentistry.

SNDA – The First 25 Years

In its first 25 years of existence, the SNDA has demonstrated its vitality and viability. It has a legacy of activism. It has become an integral minority student support system and the bridge between students and minority dental health practitioners. The ultimate goal is to improve the health status of the underserved and to increase the manpower distribution among the minority populations. SNDA national meetings are held annually to continue to advance the mission of the SNDA and to refine the collective efforts of the organization.

In the years to come… SNDA will continue to grow and SNDA will recommend, and be the recipients of NDA support programs, including mentoring, board preparation, residencies, placement, and loan repayment programs. Theirs will be the generation that improves the quality of life and the quality of health in disadvantaged populations. They will be leaders in their profession – in research, advanced communications, and global technology. They will aspire to…and achieve goals far beyond expectations. As we approach the new millennium and soar into the next century, the visions and dreams for the SNDA will be limitless. One has only to imagine how far the SNDA will go in the next 25 years.


The Impressions Program

The Student National Dental Association continues to soar to greater heights…far above even the greatest of expectations. The late nineties birthed the creation of the Impressions Program, a recruitment and outreach tool. Created by 1999-2000 National President Dr. Kimberly Edwards-Beal at the Medical College of Georgia, the program has become a hallmark of all SNDA chapters. The program typically includes hands-on exercises (taking impressions, pouring up/trimming casts, waxing, and cavity preparation techniques are a few examples), Dental Admissions Test (DAT) preparation, mock interviews, personal statement development, financial aid sessions, summer program information, and dental school recruitment. Many schools include both student and faculty discussion panels as well as refreshments. The program has garnered nation wide attention for its part in increasing the number of qualified minority candidates for dental school admissions today.

The Damon Ross Administration

SNDA truly hit a new stride under 2005-2006 National President Damon Ross of the University of North Carolina. Even prior to his election, Ross had established what would later become the Undergraduate Student National Dental Association (USNDA). Spurred by Ross’ own experiences as an undergraduate student seeking a foothold into the dental profession, the group now has more than 30 active chapters throughout the nation. Truly a pipeline, the SNDA members mentor USDNA members who in turn mentor high school and middle school students. An inaugural USNDA convention was held in conjunction with the SNDA and NDA annual meeting in Las Vegas in 2005. A key contribution of Ross’ administration was the creating of a charity basketball game benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of the local community where each year’s conference is held. Generously sponsored by Procter and Gamble at inception…the event pits SNDA members from the northern schools against their colleagues from the southern United States. Firsts of note under Dr. Ross’s tenure also included an Awards Ceremony with a formal dinner, swearing in of new officers, and a presidential farewell address.

SNDA at 35 Years – The First SNDA National Leadership Conference

Now in its 35th year of existence, SNDA is poised to take things not only to another level…but altogether another dimension. 2006-2007 National President Carlos Smith, a student at the University of Michigan spearheaded the first ever SNDA National Leadership Conference. Held over Dr. Martin Luther King Junior weekend in January 2007, the pioneering event took place in Lansdowne, Virginia at the National Conference Center. Ideally designed for all chapter presidents and vice-presidents, the conference was made available for any local chapter officer. The goals of the weekend event were to allow for a) a greater medium for individual chapter development b) an opportunity for members not in a national office to assist in framing the SNDA programmatic agenda and annual conference c) improved efficiency of developing Impressions Programs and starting USDNA chapters and most of all d) leadership training and development for our members as well as a host of other learning experiences.

Nearly 50 members attended from 13 chapters including: Howard, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Baylor, UNC, U of Detroit, U Penn, Columbia, Boston, NYU, Medical College of Georgia, and the University of Mississippi. The conference could not have been possible without the financial support of the NDA and the NDA Board of Trustees, EAS and Dr. Leon Johnson, the Maryland Dental Society and Dr. Winifred Booker, Dr. Sheila Brown, and a grant from the American Student Medical Association. Conference presenters included many NDA leaders such as Dr. Robin Daniel, Mr. Robert Johns, and Dr. Nate Fletcher. Dr. Leslie Grant gave a powerful presentation that recapped her yeas as NDA President and the importance of collaborative efforts in organized dentistry and leadership development. Dr. Hazel Harper presented an outstanding message on corporate etiquette: “Preparation, Presentation, Follow-Through and Follow-Up”. The weekend also included a presentation on leadership and the legal perspective by Attorney Derrick Humphries as well as an appearance by Attorney William Clyburn, an expert in government relations.

Two featured speakers were also Dr. Emmanuel Finn, director of oral health services for the District of Columbia Department of Public Health and Dr. Lynn Locklear, an expert in neuromuscular dentistry and featured on the August 2006 cover of Black Enterprise Magazine. Plans are already underway for the 2nd Annual Leadership Conference returning to the National Conference Center in January 2008.

The Extraordinary Work of SNDA Chapters

The new millennium has also seen individual SNDA chapters do extraordinary things. An example of that is seen at New York University. In collaboration with the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine chapter launched an annual Oral Cancer Walk in 2006. The inaugural event raised over $20,000 for oral cancer awareness and included over 300 walkers. The second annual event just took place in April 2007 and raised over $32,000 and included more than 500 walkers. Striving to increase its national presence and programmatic agenda…the Oral Cancer Walk will eventually be held in all SNDA regions with chapters collaborating together. The seeds have been planted in the Midwest were the University of Detroit School of Dentistry held its first Oral Cancer Walk in June 2007.

2010 – Refining Our Margins: Recruitment, Retention, and Outreach

The last few years have also seen SNDA conferences become the crowning event for minority dental students around the country as they close their school terms. Such notables as “The Pact” author Dr. George Jenkins, former US Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, former US Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Louis Sullivan and renowned motivational speaker Dr. Dennis Kimbro have served as keynote speakers at the esteemed Rites of Passage Ceremonies. Two thousand ten (2010) has been an exciting year for SNDA with a theme of “Refining Our Margins: Recruitment, Retention, and Outreach.” A first at the 39th Anniversary Convention will include a President’s Luncheon, generously sponsored by Procter and Gamble. Another first will be an SNDA Town Hall Meeting on dental tragedies in recent months and the SNDA to NDA membership transition.

The nation, even including majority organized dentistry groups, recognizes that the SNDA and its mission fills a niche that is virtually unmatched by any other. The American Student Dental Association most recently even included the sitting SNDA national president as official member of there House of Delegates bringing the voice of the minority dental student to a major table. The Impressions Program has even become the role model of effective student recruitment and outreach nationwide.

The Future of SNDA – No Limits!

There are truly no limits for what the SNDA can and will become. There are no limits to what role SNDA members will play in shaping the future of the dental profession. Begun in the aftermath of a great Civil Rights Movement…the mission remains unchanged today and even into the future. The Student National Dental Association continues to rise to the occasion as the key student voice in matters of oral health for the underserved and the education of minority oral health care professionals throughout the world. The best is truly yet to come…