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Aspiring optometrist earns prestigious scholarship from Knoxville Area Urban League

June 4, 2018

In Therrin Wilson’s ideal world, every child who needs glasses should have them. After a childhood spent navigating a blurry world, the 20-year-old is on a mission to make it happen.

Therrin Wilson

Wilson stood on a stage in May at the Knoxville Area Urban League’s 50th anniversary luncheon to accept the Dr. Walter S. E. Hardy Jr. scholarship award. Wilson, a rising senior at the University of Tennessee who hails from Memphis, is majoring in biochemistry and plans to graduate in May 2019. The $2,000 scholarship will assist with Wilson’s final year of undergraduate studies before he enrolls at the Southern College of Optometry (SCO) in his hometown.

“Vision is such a basic thing that people take for granted,” Wilson said. “A child’s ability to see shouldn’t depend on their parent’s financial ability or insurance. You have to be able to see before you can learn.

“It isn’t just health care; it hinders their education. Kids are sitting in the front of the classroom, squinting at the whiteboard, getting in the teacher’s way, and it could be easily solved with a pair of glasses.”

Wilson’s ultimate goal is to start his own optometry practice with a focus on helping limited-resource families get access to glasses or contacts.

“Awarding Therrin a scholarship helps him right now,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. “But it will help so many other people after he becomes an optometrist. Therrin fully understands the meaning of giving back, and we look forward to seeing what this young man and deserving scholarship winner does in the future.”

A self-starter, Wilson stressed that students must find ways to achieve their passion. In his case, Wilson researched optometry school entry exams and changed his major to better match his focus. It worked; he was accepted at SCO.

“I got my first pair of glasses in middle school, because my mom just couldn’t afford them before that,” Wilson said. “Honestly, she couldn’t afford them then either, but she scraped together the money when she saw how much I was struggling.”

Wilson, who knew he wanted to be an optometrist as soon as he got that first pair of glasses, cites the difference it made in his education. Working with the Knoxville Area Urban League during and after the scholarship process also showed Wilson the impact of community organizations.

“The Knoxville Area Urban League is the best African-American-led organization I’ve seen yet,” Wilson said. “Well organized, so professional, just fantastic. They show how much you need to really care to make things happen.”

The Knoxville Area Urban League accepts applications in December each year for the Minority Scholarship Program in honor of Dr. Walter S. E. Hardy, one of the first African-American physicians in Knoxville.

The nonprofit grants scholarships to area minority college students who are pursuing degrees in health professions. Scholarships are awarded to full-time undergraduate students already accepted into a health-related degree program with consideration also given to character, academic and community leadership.

About the Knoxville Area Urban League

Since 1968, the Knoxville Area Urban League has assisted disadvantaged people attain social and economic stability and self-sufficiency through direct services and advocacy. The League works to provide a skilled and diverse workforce; to increase homeownership; to support economic and small business development, and to enhance education efforts for our youth. The Knoxville Area Urban League is a United Way partner agency and affiliate of the National Urban League. The League’s work and results are evident in the lives of the over 8,000 people it impacts each year. For more information, call 865-524-5511 or visit