The AOA joins several industry leaders in taking the pledge to increase opportunities for Black optometrists and students
Optometry has a representation problem, and Black EyeCare Perspective is challenging the industry to address it with their 13% Promise.
As of 2020, 1.8% of practicing optometrists are Black, and in 2021, 3.0% of optometry students are Black. Compare this to the 13% of Black citizens who make up the US population,2 and you can see the disparity of representation in the industry.
“There’s a big [gap] in between those 2 numbers. [The 13% Promise] is really about saying, ‘Hey guys, we know there’s a problem, let’s put a numerical value to the problem and let’s work that out,’” said Adam Ramsey, OD, cofounder of Black EyeCare Perspective. “Let’s find ways to increase representation. Let’s get creative. [Let’s get] diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to be important. We need that to be at the forefront of what we’re doing, here, in eye care.”
The aim of the initiative is simple: Through industry connections, participants will help create a pipeline for Black students to enter optometry, provide connections to Black eye care professionals and businesses, and cultivate opportunities for Black optometrists. Since launching in 2020, the 13% Promise has received support from Johnson & Johnson Vision, New England College of Optometry, Salus University, Transitions Optical, VSP Vision Care, and as of June 2023, the American Optometric Association (AOA).
The AOA Board of Trustees met with Black EyeCare Perspective at Optometry’s Meeting, which took place in Washington, DC, on June 21-24, 2023. This marked the first in-person meeting between the leaders of both organizations, and the agenda reflected the weight of creating opportunities for Black optometrists.
On behalf of AOA, president Ronald L. Benner, OD, signed the 13% Promise with Black EyeCare Perspective executive leaders Ramsey, Darryl Glover, OD, Essence Johnson, OD, and Jacobi Cleaver, OD. The AOA joins Johnson & Johnson Vision, New England College of Optometry, Salus University, Transitions Optical, and VSP Vision Care in taking the pledge.
“[The] 13% promise is our promise, even to our own self. It's our promise to say 'hey guys, we got to do the work'
“[The AOA] didn’t have to sign; they didn’t have to come in and step up, even though we were asking them to,” Ramsey said. “Them actually making a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, instead of just a task force, is a big deal. They have 3 board members assigned to that committee. We’re going to have a good, close relationship with the AOA, trying to find how we can get our organization as a whole to realize the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And, trying to find a way to get more people to feel comfortable with this profession, and more people to come in and say, ‘I feel welcomed in this profession.’”
If you’re interested in joining the efforts of the 13% Promise, there are many opportunities to participate. Aside from signing the pledge, which individuals can do on the Black EyeCare Perspective website, Ramsey encourages practitioners to speak to Black patients about joining the profession. “People don’t realize how impactful it is for somebody to say, ‘I think you can do this, I think you could be my partner one day, I think you could come and work for me one day in this profession,’” he said.
When asked how the 13% Promise empowers the mission of Black EyeCare Perspective, Ramsey said, “[The] 13% Promise is our promise, even to our own self. It’s our promise to say, ‘Hey guys, we got work to do.’ Let’s
try and create those pipelines. Let’s try and create those courageous conversations. Let’s try and do some cross-collaboration with industry partners that are out there that can really help move the needle and bring those efforts to light.”