NEW YORK—Participation and interest is widening for the upcoming inaugural event, "IMPACT HBCU: If You See It, You Can Be It," an initiative developed to increase awareness of the optometric profession to students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It will also, organizers said, raise the visibility of Black and African American optometrists in the community, which they believe will encourage and inspire students to pursue a career as a doctor of optometry. IMPACT HBCU will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. EST. The event will be hosted virtually this year and streamed live and available on demand as well. VMAIL reported on the initiative back in July when it was announced that several leading eyecare and optical retail companies have stepped up to be the initial three supporters of the program: America's Best, MyEyeDr. and Warby Parker. The Association of Schools & Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) has become a bronze sponsor of the program.

Essence Johnson, OD, FAAO, and chief visionary officer of Black EyeCare Perspective, which is initiating the program, said, "Our IMPACT HBCU initiative is a targeted recruitment event to increase the visibility of optometry within the black community and increase the volume of Black and African American applicants into optometry school. HBCUs produce approximately 40 percent of African American optometrists, myself included.

"We want to increase the quantity, but also improve in the quality of the students applying to optometry programs. through the Black EyeCare Perspective Pre-Optometry Club (BEPPOC). The first of its kind, BEPPOC aims to provide resources and prepare a student for admittance into optometry school while providing continuous support to sustain them throughout their optometric career.”

Membership in the Black EyeCare Perspective Pre-Optometry Club is open to high school juniors and seniors and undergraduate students in all disciplines. Dr. Johnson encourages anyone in the vision care field to encourage students to consider joining BEPPOC. Details of the membership benefits and what's required are posted here. The next BEPPOC meeting is October 13 and occurs on the 13th of every month at 7:00 p.m. CST.

"We are currently filling our 2021 calendar with speakers and presentations, and this is an area of opportunity to engage with the pre-optometry students on the level of admissions, specifically, but also any unique program offerings, opportunities, case presentations, personal or professional skill development," Dr. Johnson added.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) represent less than 3 percent of the colleges and universities in the U.S. but enroll 12 percent of Black and African American students, produce 23 percent of all Black and African American graduates, confer 40 percent of all STEM degrees and educate 40 percent of Black and African American health care professionals.

Stated, Dr. Johnson, "For this reason, we are being intentional in our impact and creating a pipeline for Black students at every HBCU to serve as an introduction to optometry as a career path. Through unified messaging, continued mentorship and financial assistance toward the admission process, Black Eyecare Perspective and optometrists of the Black eyecare community are seeking to cultivate and foster lifelong, mutually beneficial relationships between the eyecare industry and those who identify as Black or African American."

IMPACT HBCU is a free virtual event for all students at any school to learn more about becoming a doctor of optometry (OD). There will be special gifts for registered attendees, and a recording will be available on demand post event. Registration can be accessed here.

Black EyeCare Perspective's site features a video of many of its members sharing their own personal stories of how they chose the field of optometry. It's viewable here.