College of Optometry Dean Keshia Elder honored at St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds’ African American Heritage Celebration
Dr. Keshia Elder made history when she took over the role of dean of the College of Optometry at the University of Missouri–St. Louis in September, becoming the first Black female dean of optometry in the country.
At a ceremony at City Hall last Tuesday, Elder was honored for her historic contributions to the field during the second-annual African American Heritage Celebration hosted by Recorder of Deeds Michael Butler. Elder was honored for excellence in education alongside four other local leaders: Cbabi Bayoc for excellence in artistry, St. Louis Comptroller the Honorable Darlene Green for excellence in public service, Bernie Hayes for excellence in activism and 14-year-old Skai Miller for excellence in entrepreneurship.
“Dr. Keshia Elder is a world-class educator, and our nation’s first African American female optometry school dean,” Butler said. “She truly has set an example of excellence, one that this and future generations of optometry students can look toward as a measure of success.”
The celebration kicked off with an African drum performance by nationally recognized drummer and storyteller Kenya Ajanaku and featured readings of the event’s mayoral proclamation and aldermanic resolution. In addition to receiving individual awards, the five honorees were presented with facsimile copies of Annie Turnbo Malone’s 1918 Poro College articles of incorporation.
“We are the official custodians of over 150 years of St. Louis City history,” Butler said. “The articles of incorporation for Annie Malone’s Poro College represent a moment of exciting optimism in the rise of the first Black millionaire in America. In revealing detail, this document provides us with a window into the business created by a Black woman entrepreneur, from the number of stock shares in her company to minute details, right down to the number of chairs and desks in her office.”
Upon receiving her award, Elder noted the significance of her appointment as the country’s first Black female dean of optometry while acknowledging that there is still work to be done.
“What that says is that we still have a long way to go,” she said to the crowd. “What I love about the fact that I made this history – or herstory, as I like to call it – is that now all these little young girls and young boys who never ever considered education, who never considered the field of optometry, who never considered academia or academic leadership, can look at me and see that if me, a normal, regular Black girl named Keshia with locs in her hair, can make this milestone, that means anyone can do it.”
After the award ceremony, the evening capped off with a reception catered by Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant.
“It was a great honor to be recognized by the City of St. Louis Recorder of Deeds for excellence in education at the 2023 African American Heritage Celebration,” Elder said. “This is particularly special during the month the United States celebrates and recognizes the contributions of Black Americans. I am thankful to work at an institution that believes there is value in diversity.”
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