Colonel James Avery Booker, Jr., D.D.S., M.D., FACS
introduction by Carlos Smith, D.D.S. M.Div.,
Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Director of Ethics Curriculum
The great novelist, poet and activist, James Baldwin is known to have said of history…
“History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.”
It is with that living history in mind, that we as a School of Dentistry community pause to honor and commemorate the life of our first Black graduate, Colonel James Avery Booker, Jr., D.D.S., M.D., FACS. Dr. Booker, a graduate of MCV’s Class of 1961, was born on May 26th, 1936 right here in the city of Richmond, Virginia. The American Dental Association Health Policy Institute has recently published that of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, the percentage of Black dentist graduates is the only demographic to decrease in recent years, at less than 5% of new graduates and less than 4% of all practicing dentists, while representing over 13% of the US population. Both the ADA and the American Dental Education Association, have published scholarship calling for more robust intentionality in increasing the numbers of Black dentists. Studies have also shown that leadership diversity in dentistry revealed that one-half of the ADA dental specialty organizations have not elevated a single non-white person to the office of president and one had neither a non-white person nor female hold this position.
The benefits of having diversity in the dental profession workforce and leadership are many – including helping address racial and ethnic health care disparities, improving patient and community-centered care, and enriching the pool of policy makers. Studies have also shown that non-white providers are more likely to serve uninsured patients and practice in underserved areas.
The knowledge of Dr. James Avery Booker’s life’s work and legacy is needed now perhaps more than ever before. In that spirit, his family proudly announces the creation of the Dr. James Avery Booker, Jr., Trailblazer Scholarship.
Biography generously shared by the Booker Family
Early life and education
Colonel James Avery Booker, Jr., D.D.S., M.D., FACS, was born on May 26, 1936 in Richmond, Virginia, to the late James A. Booker, Sr., and Thelma Morton Booker. He lived the first 28 years of his life during the segregated Jim Crow era and completed his undergraduate degree before the desegregation of public schools began in Virginia in 1959.
He graduated from Armstrong High School in Richmond in 1953 and obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from Hampton Institute in 1957. Dr. Booker began his astonishing clinical career at the Medical College of Virginia’s (MCV) School of Dentistry in 1957 and became the first Black graduate of the School of Dentistry in 1961. This year marks the 60th anniversary of his milestone graduation.
From dentistry to medicine
After graduation, Dr. Booker entered private practice and also taught at the Howard University College of Dentistry. While there, he felt that he wanted to further his career, but ultimately decided that dentistry was not as fulfilling as he had anticipated. Instead, he decided to enter medical school at the age of 28 and graduated from the Howard University School of Medicine in 1968. He graduated in the same class with another notable Black physician and inventor, Dr. Patricia Bath.
Dr. Booker completed his internship in the Public Health Service at the Presidio in San Francisco and completed his residency in General Surgery in California’s Veteran Administration System. He became a Board-Certified trauma surgeon and was elected as a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, as well as the American College of Quality Assurance and Utilization Review. In addition to decades of success in private practice, he also dedicated much of his time to teaching at the Martin Luther King/Charles Drew School of Medicine, where he also served as Medical Director, and at the Tulane University School of Medicine.
A life of service
Many do not know that Dr. Booker’s original career aspiration was to enter the United States Air Force and Reserves. He saw attending college as a way to enter the Air Force as an officer, not realizing that it would eventually lead to his successful career as a Flight Surgeon. After practicing for several decades and completing a deployment during Desert Storm, Dr. Booker retired as a Colonel in 1996.
Dr. Booker was a Lifetime Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., a member of the National Medical Association, and a member of the 100 Black Men Association. He was also a survivor of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, where he lived for several years. In his last years, he moved to the Sacramento, California, area to be near his children and grandchildren and served as a Medical Consultant for the State of California.
Dr. Booker was married to his loving wife and widow, Rita Tezeno Booker, for 25 years. Between the two of them, they share five children together and from previous unions: James A. Booker, III; Dr. Karla L. Booker; Candance M. Carter; Michael J. Booker; and JaRita Booker Pichon.
Dr. Booker was dedicated to ensuring that his children were well-loved and well-equipped to become exceptional members of the community. His beautiful family has continued to grow through his 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Due to complications from multiple myeloma, Dr. Booker departed this life on July 29, 2009 surrounded by his wife and children. His legacy lives on through his family, his accomplishments, and those, especially the First 100 Dentists of Color, who came behind him.