AOA Board of Trustees Statement Regarding C. Clayton Powell, O.D.

November 8, 2020
The Atlanta doctor of optometry and civil rights advocate fought to open doors for Black students interested in the profession, including helping to found the National Optometric Association.

Some individuals are upheld as visionaries ahead of their time, individuals who not only stood their ground, but forged pathways for an improved future. The American Optometric Association (AOA) Board of Trustees recognizes and honors C. Clayton Powell, O.D.’s place as one of those individuals, an exceptional man and doctor who made an impact not only during his life but for future generations of doctors and patients to come. 

A doctor of optometry in Atlanta, GA and persistent civil rights advocate, Dr. Powell focused his life and efforts on pushing and holding doors open. A leader early on, he decided to pursue a profession, one that not many Black Americans pursued in the 1950s – optometry. The only Black student in his class at the Illinois College of Optometry, Dr. Powell went back to his hometown of Atlanta to then take on a number of firsts, including becoming the first Black doctor of optometry to join the Georgia Optometric Association, the first doctor of optometry to head the Atlanta Southside Comprehensive Health Center and later the first Black doctor of optometry appointed to the National Eye Institute. 

With his colleague John Howlette, O.D., and 25 other doctors of optometry, he co-founded the National Optometric Association (NOA) to create a diverse organization that represented doctors of optometry of color – one that amplified their voices and priorities. In his tenure as President of NOA, Dr. Powell championed a number of issues, including the recruitment of minority optometry students and the practice of optometry in minority communities. Fifty years later, the NOA has provided nearly $25 million in scholarships for students as well as served overlooked communities and promoted eye health care. 

Today, the AOA and NOA are committed to working together to ensure Dr. Powell’s vision for inclusivity, diversity and the advancement of primary eye health and vision care for patients moves forward. 

The AOA will continue to remember Dr. Powell and uphold him as a stalwart advocate for the profession of optometry, Black and diverse students and doctors of optometry, the Black community at large and the countless patients whose lives were touched and improved by his hard work and commitment.