Black Eyecare Perspective
It was a full-circle moment for Essence Johnson, OD ‘10, FAAO, Darryl Glover Jr., OD ‘11 and Jacobi Cleaver, OD ‘11, FAAO, at Salus University’s Annual Recognition Reception the evening of Monday, September 19, 2022.

Drs. Johnson and Cleaver initially met Dr. Glover during the University’s Summer Enrichment Program (SEP), at a time when all were hoping to pursue careers in optometry. Now, a decade later as part of Black Eyecare Perspective — a group that cultivates and fosters lifelong relationships between black eye care professionals, the industry and its communities — the three received Salus University’s 2022 Presidential Medal of Honor.

“Any recognition that we get is just more of an affirmation of the good work that we’re doing but to be recognized by your alma mater is special. Out of all the awards that we have gotten, this one from Salus is extra-special,” said Dr. Johnson, chief visionary officer for Black Eyecare Perspective, who along with Dr. Cleaver, the organization’s chief program officer, co-founded and help co-advise the Black Eyecare Perspective Optometry Club.

The club, which has more than 120 students — many of those first-and second-year students from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus — represents more than 20 different states from more than 50 different colleges and universities.

In addition to the Black Eyecare Perspective, additional 2022 Presidential Medal of Honor winners included Robert P. Bittel Jr., OD ‘83; Michael D. DePaolis, OD ‘82, FAAO; Neil W. Draisin, OD ‘71, FCOVD; Kovin Naidoo, OD ‘95, MPH, PhD, FAAO; and Melissa A. Padilla, MPH ‘13, whose posthumous award was accepted by her daughter, Ariana Campo.

Dr. Robert Owens and Dr. Donald Smith.The ceremony also recognized the 2022 Alumni Association Award recipients, which included:
Alexander Smith, OD ‘05, vice president of Clinical Services for National Vision, flew up from Atlanta to see his father, Donald R. Smith, director of Clinical Services for National Vision, accept the Public Service Award.

“This award means everything,” said the younger Smith. “He was just saying that it took him 50 years to get an award, but he finally got one.” Dr. Smith said he grew up going to eye doctors, but he wasn’t initially interested in following in his father’s footsteps with a career in optometry. “Then I did an internship at one of my father’s offices and I thought, ‘The eye doctor has the best gig here,’” said Dr.  Smith, who added that when his father graduated from the PCO in 1971, there was no place for corporate optometry. “His whole thing was that there were good guys in corporate optometry,” said Alexander Smith. “That was his passion, that was his vision, to make everybody realize that.”

Dr. Missy Smith and Dr. Robert OwensIn accepting the Alumna of the Year Award for Blindness and Low Vision (BLVS) Studies, Dr. Garber expressed how grateful she was to have had a relationship with the department for more than 20 years. When she graduated from what was then PCO’s Department of Graduate Studies, the BLVS department had just received a big grant from the Department of Education to train teachers for the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment.

“Instead of me going out and working right away with school-aged kids, the department hired me to be the project coordinator for that grant,” said Dr. Garber, who is still an adjunct professor at the University and works full-time at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. “I’m grateful that this relationship has continued. This award is such an honor.”

Salus president Michael H. Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE, noted that the ceremony honors those alumni from all walks of life and all of the University’s Colleges. "When you listen to their accomplishments, these people are changing the world. It’s only appropriate that we recognize their accomplishments,” said Dr. Mittelman. “I’m extremely proud, but it’s not about how I feel. I was looking at the faces of the faculty members who actually were working with these people and they’re unbelievably proud. I’m just amazed and proud that I can represent this group.”