As conversations around the globe on issues surrounding race and diversity continue to evolve, a few Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University alumni are also leading a dialogue, asking for 13 percent Black representation in the optometry community.
Black EyeCare Perspective, established by PCO/Salus alum Darryl Glover, OD ’11, in partnership with optometrist Dr. Adam Ramsey, has worked toward the goal of 13 percent representation since its founding in 2019. To address the eye care needs of Black Americans in an increasingly diverse society, Dr. Glover teamed up with fellow PCO/Salus alumni Jacobi Cleaver, OD ‘11, and Essence Johnson, OD ‘10, to create Impact HBCU. Formed under the Black EyeCare Perspective organization to support its 13 percent goal, the initiative links optometry school recruitment and admissions to students enrolled at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
First, we featured Dr. Glover in this three-part series that highlights a few of the thought leaders behind Impact HBCU, their work and the importance of the group’s underlying mission. Next, Dr. Cleaver shares his experiences and thoughts surrounding his PCO optometry journey, beginning in the PCO Summer Enrichment Program (SEP), which will relaunch in June as the Robert E. Horne SEP after a six-year hiatus. The goal of the new program is to improve the acceptance, enrollment and graduation rates of underrepresented students through a free five-week hybrid virtual and residential program.
Dr. Jacobi Cleaver
Like many optometrists, a routine eye exam as a kid helped nurture Dr. Cleaver’s interest in the optometry profession. Although he was only in middle school at the time, Dr. Cleaver eventually enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Houston where he joined a pre-optometry club to help him reach his long-term goal.
But after receiving a round of denials from graduate schools where Dr. Cleaver wanted to pursue his Doctor of Optometry degree, PCO/Salus inspired a new path.
“PCO reached out to me and said I could improve my application, maybe retake a couple classes, and that they would love for me to experience the Summer Enrichment Program,” he said. “Dean Robert Horne reached out to me personally and told me to apply to the SEP. And, I did.”
Poised for success and even more eager to start optometry school, after completing the program’s SEP, Dr. Cleaver immediately reapplied to PCO/Salus. And this time, he was accepted.
Dr. Cleaver’s efforts paid off. He now serves as a faculty optometrist with the Baylor College of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology, practicing at Harris Health System’s Martin Luther King Jr. Health Clinic in Houston, Texas, providing care to the residents of Harris County.
“I wouldn't be an optometrist without the Summer Enrichment Program. That was the starting lab,” he said. “I know Dean Horne would probably argue that, but he's not going to make me change my mind. Without the Summer Enrichment Program, I wouldn't be here.”
And, just like Dr. Cleaver answered the first call from Dean Horne inviting him to try the program’s SEP, he continues to answer calls to give back to society. As a practicing optometrist in a community health setting, he is often booked three months in advance due to high demand and healthcare barriers among the underrepresented populations he serves.
But patient interaction and education are his ultimate reward.
“Whatever barriers the patient had to face prior to coming here, I realize that those barriers are being removed and now I can just provide eye care,” Dr. Cleaver said. “But I hear it all of the time. ‘You're my first eye exam; I didn't know they had Black eye doctors; you're the first Black eye doctor I've ever seen,’" referring to feedback from his patients.
Dr. Cleaver also serves as Black EyeCare Perspective’s director of program management, which allows him to serve as a mentor to many aspiring optometrists. Through Impact HBCU and the initiative’s pre-optometry club, he works with students from all walks of life, including some who were initially steered toward different healthcare professions.
“There's more than a few members in the club who were literally talked out of going into optometry because the advisor didn’t know enough about the profession,” Dr. Cleaver said. “There is also one member who already graduated, but he was interested in optometry school seven years ago as well as another individual who was talked out of optometry and became a ward nurse.
“But it's up to optometry to get the word out about optometry, about how great the profession is,” he said. “So that's the whole meaning, the issue, the reason for Impact HBCU. The club was more of a ‘if you build it, they will come.’”
And, now, with more than 60 members attending Impact HBCU pre-optometry meetings, the students have certainly showed up.
For more information, please visit BlackEyeCarePerspective.com.