by Azizah Muhammad
Diabetes and glaucoma—two medical conditions that affect eyesight—are growing issues within the Black community. But, according to recent medical studies, less than two percent of Black optometrists in the United States are Black. Further medical studies suggest that patients respond better when they receive medical treatment from a physician of the same race or ethnicity.
“So, there’s a direct line between patients and doctors who look like them, and that manifests in the best outcomes,” Dr. Gabriel X Russell, owner and nationally board-certified optometrist of Arnand Comprehensive Eye Care in Morrow, Georgia, told The Final Call.
“One of my goals is to expand my clinic in the future to help stop the growing number of our people who suffer from diabetes associated with visual complications, as well as glaucoma so that we can hopefully get the numbers of those who are losing their vision under control.”
“I am an optometrist, also known as an optometric physician,” Dr. Gabriel continued. “We diagnose and use therapy and even medications to help the visual system and issues of the eyes in particular, as well as systemic issues that result in eye diseases: diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, certain cancers, strokes, etc., and of course, we do routine eye exams to seek out those issues.”
However, he added, “I, like most of the believers in the Nation of Islam, have come to help build a nation. So, the Teachings (of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad as taught and exemplified by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan) have helped to steer me into what Allah (God) has placed in my heart to do and then use that to help my people.”
In May 2005, Dr. Gabriel attended The National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he heard Minister Farrakhan speak on the importance of the nine ministries.
The Nine Ministries were established by Minister Farrakhan as part of the Millions More Movement, the 10th Anniversary of the historic Million Man March. The Nine Ministries include: the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Trade and Commerce, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Arts and Culture, and the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Hearing the Minister speak was a life-changing experience for Dr. Gabriel. “I honestly would not be here, of course without Allah’s Blessing, but without the guiding words to us from the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan,” he said.
Dr. Gabriel and his wife, Karen X Russell, a registered nurse, moved out on faith and sacrificed their time and finances for collective success. In 2007, Dr. Gabriel completed his undergraduate studies at Winston-Salem State University, nearly seven years after becoming a registered member of the Nation of Islam at Muhammad Mosque No. 92 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
He continued his studies by graduating from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University. Despite rigorous hours of studying, Dr. Gabriel believes that his career is rewarding. “The beauty of the career, I believe, is that you are not only helping someone’s vision, but you are also taking a cursory look into the systems of the body, the physiology of the body, and the neurology (of the body) at the same time,” he said.
At the age of 16, Dr. Gabriel tried to get his driver’s license, only to find his vision was not up to par. Dr. Gabriel needed glasses to drive and the seemingly small visit to the eye doctor is an experience that stuck with him till now.
“It was a 15-20 minute appointment and it was virtually painless. I was made better and made whole by having my vision corrected,” he said. “And so, I could see the world in a totally different light and in more detail. That stuck with me; that here was a career where you can help somebody in a fairly small amount of time and make a big impact.”
The science of sight always intrigued Dr. Gabriel. His late father, Earnest James Russell, was a color physicist, textile scientist and inventor. Earnest J. Russell was also one of the first Blacks to attend Duke University on a full scholarship. “His whole career was based around seeing the science and getting colors to adhere to certain textiles,” Dr. Gabriel stated. “So growing up, almost all of my science projects had to do with optics and color and how color is separated by prisms.”
“I made it up in my mind that I wanted to give back because we don’t have Black eye doctors en masse,” he said.
One of his ways of giving back was to create a foundation geared toward increasing the representation of Black and minority optometrists in America. In October 2022, Dr. Gabriel initiated The Eye Bridge Scholarship Fund at Winston-Salem State University. “The scholarship funds are gifted to deserving students and will cover the cost of optometry school admissions testing, testing study materials, and admissions application fees for the students’ chosen optometry school,” he said.
On March 22, 2023, Dr. Gabriel was invited to Winston-Salem State University to teach a physics class called, “Optics of the Eye.”
“We spoke about how the eye transfers, or transforms light into electrical energy, and then that electrical energy is then sent to the brain and the brain then resembles that light into the image of what you’re actually looking at,” he explained.
Dr. Gabriel was also given the opportunity to be a participant for an optometry careers recruitment opportunity, where he formally announced the Eye Bridge Scholarship Fund to Winston-Salem State University students.
“Scholarship crowdfunding has gotten off to a wonderful start,” he said. Dr. Gabriel, along with his mentors and supporters, plan to organize “an army of compassionate, primary eye care professionals with a mind to assist our people and communities to become systemically healthier.”
For more information on Dr. Gabriel X Russell, visit www.arnandcomprehensiveeyecare.com