Three Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO)
at Salus University alumni are changing the narrative of optometry, and are recipients of a 2022 Presidential Medal of Honor
as a result.
Black Eyecare Perspective (BEP) is an organization dedicated to increasing Black representation in optometry by creating a pipeline for Black students into the profession, cultivating and fostering lifelong relationships between Black eyecare professionals and the eyecare industry. The organization has three PCO alums in key leadership roles, Darryl Glover OD ‘11
, co-founder, Essence Johnson OD ‘10
, chief visionary officer and Jacobi Cleaver OD ‘11
, chief program officer.
The trio was nominated by Lauren Price, BEP pre-optometry club president. “Drs. Johnson, Cleaver and Glover encompass and continuously exceed said contribution to the optometric profession as a whole as they’ve changed the way people see optometry eternally,” said Price in her nomination letter to the committee. “The Drs. reflect PCO/Salus University in the highest regard and often pay homage to their alma mater for molding them into the optometrists they are today.”
“Co-founder, Dr. Adam Ramsey, and I founded BEP to increase Black representation in the eyecare industry. We partnered with Drs. Johnson and Cleaver to take the organization to the next level,” said Dr. Glover. “Our core values center around transformational impact - changing the mindset of the next generation of eyecare professionals; Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) champions - creating safe spaces to have these courageous conversations within the eyecare community; and healthcare enrichment - creating awareness and changing the narrative of the role of optometry. Our core values have allowed us to be successful and foster a strong community.”
BEP aims to break the ‘generational curse’ that many underrepresented students face in the optometry profession. “We wanted to break the cycle of ‘well we didn’t have those resources so you have to work ten times as hard to prove yourself,” said Dr. Johnson. “We wanted to find a way to make everyone's journey easier.”
BEP offers the Black EyeCare Perspective pre-optometry club (BEPPOC) centering around community and connecting future professionals with a network of practicing optometrists as mentors.
“Optometry school will teach you everything you need to know about optometry, that’s the ‘what you know’ aspect. Students also need to work on the ‘who you know’ aspect because the best opportunities come from strong networking and relationships,” said Dr. Cleaver. “The industry has responded really well to what BEP and BEPPOC are doing, and that has been a huge part of our success.”
The organization offers two other primary initiatives: Impact HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and Signing Day.
“Impact HBCU was the first part of us developing solutions for our organizational mission,” said Dr. Johnson. “Impact HBCU involves us targeting HBCUs where we know there are predominantly Black students and giving them more information about optometry as a career path.”
The Impact HBCU initiative is how the organization started to gain participation and develop its community. In order to foster and engage the community, the second initiative, Signing Day, was created. Similar to an athletics signing day, the BEP’s Signing Day allows students, along with family and friends, to announce which optometry school they have chosen to attend and gives them a platform to celebrate their accomplishments.
“A lot of our work has been activism, advocacy and accountability. We have given our industry a benchmark for diversity and inclusion that may have been put on the back burner in the past,” said Dr. Johnson. “We have definitely given the people in our industry a charge and a standard to work towards.”
As they accept the 2022 Presidential Award, Drs. Cleaver, Glover and Johnson collectively recognize their time in the Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) as a predecessor for their career successes and for the development of their lifelong friendship.
“We all owe a great deal of our careers to Dr. Robert E. Horne,” said Dr. Glover. “PCO, Salus University, the Summer Enrichment Program and these two people [Dr. Cleaver and Dr. Johnson] have helped me elevate as an optometrist and as a person.”
Not only are they appreciative of PCO/Salus for their friendships and success, they are also humbled by the institution's recognition of their work.
“It is an honor to do this work, even without the recognition, but we do have such a deep, natural-rooted love for PCO/Salus,” said Dr. Johnson. “To get an award like this was completely unexpected but extremely humbling. Seeing the timeline of our friendship and the progress of our work is incredible, I could not think of two other people I would want to accept this award with.”
Dr. Cleaver views this as a full circle moment in his optometry career, he was not accepted to PCO/Salus upon his first application but was invited to attend SEP. At the time, he was given feedback on his application, listened and was accepted into the program the following year.
“PCO/Salus could have turned their back on me, but instead they gave me feedback and worked with me to help me succeed. For an institution as prestigious as Salus to reach out and recognize our work is a huge deal,” said Dr. Cleaver. “My wife is probably going to be upset with me for wearing that medal, she is going to make me frame it instead of walking around with it on.”
BEP is excited to continue building and growing its organization, and continue making monumental impacts on the communities and people they serve.
“This problem has been around since day one but we have seen that we are generating a positive impact and the right traction,” said Dr. Glover. “Salus is going to become a leader and other schools will follow. We will all continue changing the narrative of optometry.