College of Optometry Student Services partners with vendors in Anchor Action Network footprint

by | Feb 19, 2024

The network seeks to advance equity for St. Louis people and places that have faced decades of disinvestment.
B Juiced pop up at College of Optometry

Brandace Johnson, the owner of B Juiced, describes the nutritious juices and smoothies she brought in for students in UMSL’s College of Optometry on Jan. 19. The organic cold-pressed juice company was a member of the third cohort of UMSL’s Anchor Accelerator. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Chock-full of fresh, organic ingredients like beet root, carrot and kale, the brightly colored cold-pressed juices formed a veritable rainbow on a table in the Optometry Student Lounge in the basement of Marillac Hall on a chilly January morning.

On Jan. 19, the College of Optometry at the University of Missouri–St. Louis treated students to a “Welcome Back Wellness” event featuring Brandace Johnson of B Juiced, which operates a brick-and-mortar location just down the road from the university in Ferguson. The organic cold-pressed juice company was a member of the third cohort of UMSL’s Anchor Accelerator, which supports diverse founders from underrepresented communities through a non-dilutive $50,000 capital injection.

The event was organized by Jacqueline McNair, director of the college’s Student Services, and Linda Stein, student service coordinator, as a way to start students off with a healthy new year while also supporting vendors in UMSL’s own community.

“Because our students are in such a rigorous program, we try to give them things that will feed their minds as well as their bodies,” McNair said. “We were also trying to figure out a way to bring that community aspect back to our college. We want to be visible in the community and always be doing community-minded activities and events. That’s what helps broaden the community, builds up the community and lets people know that we are here. One way to do that is by supporting those vendors and the people in the community. We’re just trying to do our part as well as teach our students – they’re going to be doctors, so they’re going to have to care for people that may or may not live in their community. It’s good to be a part of the community – not just be here, but actually be a part of it.”

McNair and Stein have also frequently partnered with Tony Davis of Pop Pop Hurray!, a member of the Anchor Accelerator’s second cohort, to make the company’s premium gourmet popcorn available to students throughout the school year. On Wednesday, they welcomed Pop Pop Hurray! back to campus once again to celebrate Valentine’s Day and encourage students during midterms.

They also work with Onyx Business & Print Center, which is located next door to B Juiced on Florissant Road and is a member of the St. Louis Anchor Action Network, to print banners and other materials for the college.

The partnerships are part of a broader effort throughout the university to engage with local businesses in the Anchor Action Network footprint, which seeks to advance racial equity by removing barriers to economic opportunity and driving sustained investment in St. Louis people and places that have faced decades of disinvestment. UMSL has played a leading role in the network and exceeded its ambitious goal for increased hiring and purchasing from vendors in the network in 2023.

McNair and Stein were proud to play a small part in helping the university support the surrounding community and to, hopefully, lead by example.

“We say one thing, but are we really living it?” McNair said. “Being Student Services, we’re here to serve students, but are we honestly doing what we say we’re gonna do? How can we be role models and be effective in what we say? We have students that come from Canada, from Hawaii, and we say that we’re small enough for community but large enough for opportunity. These are small businesses, but we’re empowering them by using them, and making it known not just in the UMSL community, but in our personal lives.”

The two hope to continue working with even more vendors in the surrounding community in the future. Stein was particularly excited that all three businesses the college has worked with recently – B Juiced, Onyx Business & Print Center and Pop Pop Hurray! – are owned by UMSL alums.

“The fact that all three of them are UMSL grads, I think that’s great, because we can highlight that you can be successful as an UMSL grad,” she said. “And we’re also helping them be successful. Being a part of that community, it’s a circle – we’re helping get the word out about all the brands being successful, and we’re also helping make them successful. It’s a win-win situation.”

Heather Riske

Heather Riske