HSDM/Oral Health Interviews


Health History

George Blue Spruce Jr. was born on January 16, 1931 at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital School. When Dr. Blue Spruce graduated from Creighton University School of Dentistry in 1956, he was the first American Indian person to graduate from dental school. Throughout his career, Dr. Blue Spruce has recruited and trained other American Indian people to enter dentistry and serve those living on American Indian reservations.

Dr. Blue Spruce spent 21 years in the Indian Health Service, worked with the World Health Organization in South America, wrote drafts of legislation of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 1976, and served as assistant surgeon general and director of the Indian Health Service for the Phoenix area. He is currently an assistant dean at the A.T. Still University/Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health in Mesa, Arizona, and founder of the American Indian Dental Association.

Learn more about Dr. Blue Spruce in his memoir, Searching for My Destiny.

“I spent my growing up years at the Santa Fe Indian School, with the exception of several years during World War II when my dad was in the Navy and we moved out to California”

“My mother and father were of the generation that was forced into the federal boarding schools to be assimilated into the mainstream of society.”

“I was the first American Indian to be enrolled at Creighton |LS|University|RS|.  And I began to realize that it was going to be very much living in a fishbowl, with everybody observing me and what I was doing as an American Indian.”

“I was the first director of the Indian programs that were implemented under Section 774(b) of the manpower development legislation of 1971, where for the very first time the federal government was going to recruit ethnic minorities, underserved populations, and women into the doctored health professions.”

“When I got out to the American Indian reservations, they had no running water or no electricity, and so I had to beg, borrow, and steal from the public schools to be able to practice dentistry.”

“After the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975, I was asked to write the legislation for Title I of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and that was to initiate scholarships for American Indian students interested in health careers.”

“I looked behind me, and I saw very few American Indians going through to become doctored health professionals.  And so I thought that I would think very seriously about an organization that would help promote that effort.”

“I grew up in Houston, Texas, in a segregated community.” (time)

“I guess 11 to 12, my mother took me to a dentist who had never done braces before, but he wanted to try to do braces.  And so I was one of his first patients.” (time)

“I left Morehouse in ’65, joined the Peace Corps, and I had a two-year tour in Kenya, East Africa.  That was also an interesting experience.  I’d never been out of the country before, obviously, and I’d never been -- I had never been north before.  I hadn’t been anywhere, actually, before I went to Morehouse.” (time)

“My mother said, “Apply to Harvard.”  And I clearly remember telling Mama, I said, “Mama, Harvard is not gonna accept a black kid with a big afro.” And she said, “That’s OK, son.  Apply to Harvard.”  And, of course, in those days, what your parents told you what to do, you did it, right?” (time)

“After my acceptance, Jim Mulvihill … came to Houston.  We talked about finances, how I would finance my dental education.  And he said … he was working on a situation that would help me alleviate some of the cost.  And that situation was he had contacted Wellesley College to see if they could employ my wife and I as house parents.  And that came through:  my wife and I were the first house parents at Wellesley College.” (time)

“I also served as a minority recruiter for the Medical School, the dental school, and the School of Public Health.” (time)

“And to be referred to as Black Panthers was extremely shocking, because, you know, we thought Boston would be different.  We thought Boston, the bastion of liberalism, surely the racist experiences that we were accustomed to in the South would surely not be prevalent in Boston.” (time)

“I think it was ’72 to ’74.  While I was at the dental school, I realized, and we all realized, there were very few black and brown students at the -- at Harvard Medical School and Harvard dental school.” (time)

“That project actually served as the blueprint for the explosion of minority programs in predominantly white dental schools across the country during the, you know, the late ’70s and early ’80s.” (time)

“We also did a survey of dental services for non-institutionalized developmentally disabled persons in the state of Texas.” (time)

“Harvard has an obligation to continue the diversity program in the years to come.” (time)

Dr. Reuben C. Warren earned his undergraduate degree from San Francisco State University, and his dental degree from Meharry Medical College. He also earned his MPH and PhD from the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as a Master of Divinity from the Interdenominational Theological Center. 

He is currently the Director of the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care and Professor of Bioethics at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. From 1988-1997, Dr. Warren served as Associate Director for Minority Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“When I was in El Salvador, I was already planning on going to dental school.  In El Salvador, most of the dentists are women”

“My father died when I was five, and my mother only completed high school.  … So it was very hard for her to get a job in El Salvador.”

“It came down to two schools at the end.  UC-San Francisco, and Harvard.  And, they were both, at that time, considered like the top two schools in the country.”

“You know, I started noticing things like that, that here, I hadn’t really noticed.”

“So they said, you know, you have to repeat the year or leave.  And so I met with Dr. Henry.  … I couldn’t come home and say, I fail, because a lot of the people in my community, in my church, they were looking up to me...”

“Then second year, it got easier, and third year, I was coasting; I was getting honors because by then, I was working with patients… it was more meaningful than just reading books.”

“I became an endodontist; I opened my own practice, again, not knowing what I was getting myself into.”

“I helped start a group called SALEF, a Salvadorian organization that helps Salvadorians with money to go to college, and also does things like civics, engagement, get out the vote, literacy programs, basically help the community become integrated into the mainstream community.”

“I feel very strongly … that education is the way of getting out of poverty.”

Dr. Caswell A. Evans Jr. DDS, MPH, is Associate Dean for Prevention and Public Health Sciences and Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois, Chicago College of Dentistry. 

Dr. Evans was the executive editor and project director for Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General, released in May 2000. He directed the development of the National Call To Action to Promote Oral Health, released in April 2003. 

Dr. Evans served as Director of Public Health Programs and Services for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services for twelve years. He also served as director of the County Division of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health in Washington State.

He is a past-president of the American Public Health Association and the American Association of Public Health Dentistry. Dr. Evans is a diplomate of the American Board of Dental Public Health and a past-president of that Board. He was elected into the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences in 1992.

Dr. Evans is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Dental and Oral Surgery in New York City, and he earned his masters of public health degree from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Brian J. Swann is Chief of Oral Health Services for the Cambridge Health Alliance and conducts the Oral Physician Program within the General Practice Residency Program. At the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, he is Assistant Professor of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology.

Dr. Swann graduated from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry. After practicing for 30 years in California, he switched gears to focus on public health and dentistry, and became the first Joseph L. Henry Fellow in Minority Health Policy at Harvard Medical School. He received a Master of Public Health degree from the Harvard School of Public Health and was presented with the Albert Schweitzer Award in recognition of his commitment to global outreach.

He is involved with projects in Boston, Jamaica, and Rwanda, and developed an oral health care education project for the Wampanoag Tribe on Martha’s Vineyard.