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Alumnae Stories

Strong Family Ties Guide Her Service to Others: Lezli Levene Harvell, M.D., C'2000

November 2019

Lezli Levene Harvell Growing up as a proud, first-generation Jamaican-American, Levene Harvell, M.D., C’2000, was raised in a home where family helped one other and the idea of giving back was commonplace.

This philosophy continues to shape Harvell’s work and remains the driving force for why giving means so much to her.

“My mother established herself in this country before some of her siblings and extended family members migrated here. As a result, there was an expectation that you don’t go through the door and close it behind you,” said Harvell, whose parents migrated from Jamaica. “It’s expected that if you have a home that is large enough, you open your house to a relative who is trying to establish him or herself in this country. It was just how I was raised. You don’t throw things out. You send things back home. That’s how it was going to a school like Spelman. There were so many opportunities to give to the surrounding community that encompasses the College.”

Integrating Passions with Profession

A pediatric dentist and passionate food devotee based in New Jersey, Harvell is widely known within the culinary community for her successful and well-respected Iconoclast Dinner Experience. She established the fundraiser in 2015 to recognize trailblazing culinary and beverage professionals of color while benefiting students from Jamaica and sub-Saharan African countries attending Spelman College. The annual series of curated culinary events, which are hosted in New York, Chicago and Martha’s Vineyard, has raised $110,000 in scholarships since its inception.

Harvell approaches her work as a board-certified pediatric dentist with the same degree of purpose. She and her husband, Chris, founded Dental Kidz in 2009 with the specific intention of locating to a medically underserved area and creating access to care. Dental Kidz is an 8,000-square-foot, full-service, state-of-the-art dental practice located in downtown Newark. Harvell and her team of dentists provide for all children — regardless of their medical or socioeconomic status.

“When my husband and I opened Dental Kidz, one of the things we wanted to be able to provide was the highest quality of care by culturally competent providers who have strong connections to the community they serve,” she said. “Also, we’re not located in an area where parents can’t access us. We take all types of insurance. We never want anyone to feel like they cannot come to us. That was also important to us as far as creating access to care.”

Extending her Parents' Legacy 

Harvell is quick to credit her parents, former Spelman professors, as well as the tight-knit Spelman sisterhood and network for helping her become the accomplished woman and professional she is today. As the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college, she found Spelman to be a safe place where she could grow, be affirmed, and vocalize her ideas and opinions while being celebrated as a Black woman. Spelman ultimately gave her the confidence and proved to be the perfect place to fortify herself as a young Black woman entering dental school and eventually the workforce.

“Education was very important to my parents, and it was always something that was stressed in my home,” said Harvell, a mother of five daughters — two of whom currently attend Spelman. “My mother worked as a registered nurse at New York University Medical Center and met female physicians who went to Spelman whom she wanted me to emulate. She felt that it was important for me to have that time at Spelman. It was a significant financial commitment, and my parents gave me that gift.”

Just as her parents blessed her with the gift of a Spelman education, Harvell remains determined to do her part by giving back to her younger Spelman sisters. Through her Iconoclast Dinner Experience, she hopes to one day have a $1 million scholarship endowment for students attending Spelman from the Caribbean or the continent of Africa.

“I would hope that what [philanthropist] Robert Smith did for Morehouse will encourage other billionaires to take a look at HBCUs and consider giving,” she said. “As for me, I would hope that establishing my scholarship and doing this work encourages other people that they don’t have to be Robert Smith or Bill and Melinda Gates to make an impact.”

Lezli Levene Harvell
By Alicia Sands Lurry, as seen in The Spelman Messenger.