The importance of legacy

Dr. Candace Brown-Evans speaks at Black History Month event
March 2nd, 2023

Alumna Dr. Candace Brown-Evans addressed a crowd of students, faculty and staff at a Black History Month celebration Feb. 24, inspiring them with her hard work and perseverance.

Brown-Evans, a 2012 graduate of Baylor College Dentistry, now Texas A&M School of Dentistry, shared her journey to become a successful dentist and businesswoman.

“There have been moments when I got knocked down,” she said.

Born and raised in Dallas, she graduated from Lake Highlands High School, where she chose dentistry as a career path in ninth grade. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences from Baylor University, but her path to dental school was challenging. During her junior year as an undergrad, a university receptionist told her she would never get into dental school and she should consider other career opportunities. Brown-Evans was shocked and said she was deeply hurt because this person knew nothing about her applications.

“I had been studying to be a dentist my whole life, and in that moment, she crushed me into pieces,” Brown-Evans said. “I remember running to the bathroom, and I probably cried for maybe 30 minutes, although it felt like an eternity.

“But I realized that lady doesn’t get to decide what happens to me,” she said. “She has no control over that, and she doesn’t get to decide my fate. Either I prove her right, or I can do something about it.”

In fact, Brown-Evans did not get into dental school on her first try, but she persevered and is proud today to be a Black dentist. In 2018, she opened her own private practice, Fresh Dentistry in Cedar Hill, Texas. She was awarded the Business Empowerment Award by the Tri-Cities NAACP for outstanding business development, and her practice also won the Best of Black Dallas Award by Dallas Weekly in 2021 and 2022.

Brown-Evans pointed out Black people make up 13 percent of the country’s population, but only about 3 percent of dentists. She is regularly reminded that her hard work is helping pave the way for other young Black dentists.

“I am a descendant of slaves, and like other figures in Black history who are descendants of slaves, I represent their legacy,” she said.

Brown-Evans pointed to figures such as Robert Tanner Freeman, the first Black dentist, and Ida Gray, the first female Black dentist, among those who inspired her. She also mentioned figureheads specific to Texas A&M School of Dentistry such as Dr. M.C. Cooper, the first Black dentist to operate out of Dallas and the namesake of the school’s Cooper clinic. She also highlighted former faculty member Dr. Claude Williams.

“I stand on his shoulders the most,” Brown-Evans said. “If it wasn’t for [Williams] calling my grandmother … he literally called her on the phone and said, ‘I heard there’s a little Black girl who lives there that wants to be a dentist.’ I never called somebody and said something so direct in my life, but what if I did? What if I knew I could intervene and help someone?

“We all want something to believe in or something to belong to, and when someone puts their hand out to pull you up, you got to be ready to take that opportunity,” she said.  “I’m so grateful for him. When I got here, I spent a lot of time in his office, and he gave me a lot of wisdom.”

At the end of the day, Brown-Evans said, she wanted students to be inspired by her story and know their future is bright. She also wanted them to understand the importance of remembering those who helped them get this far and realize their responsibility to help others go even farther.

“If you get nothing else from this presentation, I want you to believe in yourself and to be encouraged,” she said. “I stand here as an example. I don’t have superpowers. I’m not a baby genius, and my family doesn’t have a lot of resources.  But I try hard and work hard, and it’s an honor to be speaking here.”

Planned by the school’s chapter of the Student National Dental Association, last week’s event also included an art show, featuring works by students, faculty and staff, as well as some children.

D2 Joyce Akinnibosun was one of the artists featured. Her abstract paintings of objects and ideas that inspired her is a return to a longtime personal passion.

“Art was something I had always done growing up, but with school and being an undergrad, I’d lost touch with it,” she said. “Then during COVID, I got back into it a lot more. I’d call my art abstract; it’s really just whatever I feel like doing. I just think of something or I see something, and I get inspired.”

— Caleb Vierkant