Before I spoke with 15-year-old ABC’s “Black-sh” star Marsai Martin about her vision initiative for kids, Optometrist was not one of my calendar alerts for my kids.”Nearly half of parents with children under the age of 6 have never taken their child to the eye doctor. By that age, it’s recommended that children have already visited an eye care professional three times.” –thinkaboutyoureyes.com I felt especially motivated as a parent after Marsai shared her personal experience with undiagnosed vision challenges. –Bree Jensen
Q. You’re young and ambitious, which is cool to see, especially working with teens you don’t always see that. What helps you stay driven at a young age, and what would you say to kids who want to pursue their dreams but feel like maybe they should wait?
A. “What drove me to like the path I have now is definitely my family. I never say we stumbled through this, but it was definitely God allowing me to do this. It was never our intention to go into acting and even bigger going into creating. It was all like God’s lane and my parent’s lane of them believing in me, and taking a bunch of risks to make it to L from this small town in TX. So it was a very big change, but they’ve actually drove me into the person I am now, of course. Even my family and friends we are all very close, they definitely help me and influence me to be authentic and true to who I am. I honestly think my family is a different breed. We come from a whole line of struggles, but we also come from a whole line of success. We can always have the right balance of things, so they’ve always influenced me to do that. But with their advice coming into my advice for kids– always believe in yourself! Always love yourself before you can love anybody else. People usually say that with relationships after you break up with someone or whatever, but with this, it’s about mindset to do what you love. Whether it’s any age too old or too young, there’s no such thing as “too anything.” You can live your life at whatever age, it doesn’t have to be too late or too early to do whatever. Life is short we: literally don’t know if tomorrow is even promised for anyone, so you might as well do it now. I always like to say be confident, be passionate, and just try something new. Don’t be afraid because if it doesn’t work out, then there are so many more opportunities to do whatever, and if it does work out, keep moving forward, be passionate and having the hard work and dedication to do so.”
Q. Many kids feel like they have challenges or limitations that will prevent them from fulfilling their dreams. What would you say to those kids about your experience and how they can get the help they need to help them with their challenges and experience success?
A.“Talking to your parents is the first part. Your parents could be very understanding whenever you ask them anything because, you know, you’re their prized possession, they won’t let anything happen to you. When you talk to your parents about something they can help out with you. That’s definitely what I did with my glasses, too. They took me to the right eye doctor and the right exams and make sure I have it annually. Of course, it’s not just about the style but it’s more about the lenses and what makes it whole. So I definitely wanted to preach that also and make sure all kids know it’s not all about style, but it’s about health. How you move through life, ‘cause you can have dope glasses, but you could barely see through them. I definitely wanted to make sure that kids/parents got the whole info about it that’s why I partnered with the Essilor Vision Pledge”
Take the pledge before Sep. 25th at 2020VisionPledge.com for a chance to win glasses for your child’s entire school.
Q. How old were you when you were diagnosed? What were the immediate changes you noticed?
A. “I think I was 7. The immediate changes were I could see. Oh, snap I can see stuff now and it’s different ‘cause you can get headaches when you can’t see. You can like shut your eyes get messed up you get dizzy and stuff, and the longer you wait, the more damage you can do to your eyes. Definitely, the changes were no more headaches no more hard sleep. And to really make sure you are comfortable and just make sure you can make it through life in the easiest way possible.”
Q. What were some of the symptoms you experienced that caused your parents to take action?
A.Trouble sleeping, headaches, dizziness and trouble in school.
Q. How did you feel when the challenge was solved?
A. I felt relieved. I felt like wow I said something about it, I’m confident in what I said, and that was a big change. I really felt like it was something bigger than me that I couldn’t really tackle but when I made sure it was said to my parents, it was totally easy– it was super chill and now I’m trying to preach that to other kids to do the same thing as I did. Actually, the cool things about what I’m doing if you go to
2020VisionPledge.com you can enter to get free glasses and eye exam for your entire school. You can make sure your eyes are checked before the semester.
Q. How was your emotional wellbeing impacted after you received vision help vrs. before you were diagnosed? How do you feel kids are emotionally impacted by undiagnosed vision challenges?
A. “I knew I needed glasses or I knew I needed something but I was too nervous to say something because it was already difficult to already be like the only black girl in my school, then to actually have glasses to get more eyes on me was very uncomfortable. I was definitely that type of person that was like I’m just here to learn, I just want to swing on the monkey bars and whatever, I’m not trying to hang out with you all. I was def. that type of kid to make myself isolated. But when I got self-confidence and to make sure I pushed to my full potential to anything I do, then I actually became more social and I am how I am,which is deeply who I am also but with school it was a totally different challenge, but when I actually got my glasses it was something different, it was actually original at that time because a lot of people weren’t wearing glasses at that time.” It helped you come into your own? “Ya”
Q. How did you adjust to the fears of what people will think about you when you wear glasses? A lot of kids have those worries feeling like “what are they going to say about me?” you are making glasses cool so that helps.
A. “By that time I had to think like they’re just kids, hey are my age that are going through the same struggles I do on an everyday basis. They put on their pants the same way I do. When you think about it that way you think it’s more like, “oh it doesn’t really matter what they think about it” just only matter what I think about me, it just matters about the self-confidence that I have. I really have to think about it that way, and make sure I’m on the right path and not let my head go in different ways to think about what other people think about me. My parents taught me at a very young age.”
Q. How do you feel that kids are emotionally impacted by being undiagnosed, if parents don’t recognize that their symptoms are a result of vision challenges?
A. Paraphrased: I think they will feel resentment, they will think “well they actually don’t care”. When you talk with them about it, it makes the whole situation easier. When it’s not a big priority for them or they are busy, it can be different for the kid. If you are a teen you can understand but you have to be persistent with your parents. When you are a child it’s hard to say what you mean because you don’t know what you mean. Tell your parents as easy as possible how you are feeling. What it’s preventing you from like learning. I feel like it’s trying to make sure you are letting them know you need glasses or something.
Q. How do you suggest parents talk with their kids about the hard stuff?
A.“Just making sure your kid is alright. It doesn’t have to be about glasses per se but just making sure your kid is going through life in a good vibe. Check on them without being too overprotective. It’s definitely a hard balance but when you have understanding kids that you can talk to without over talking to it’s easier”.
Q. What would you say to your 7 yr old pre-glasses self?
A. Paraphrased: Be patient. To be myself . I would take my glasses off for auditions because I felt insecure about them. The first audition she wore glasses for was black-ish and they like her glasses. Besides my acting, of course, they liked my glasses. She wears them on the show. She’s able to make glasses cool through her positive influence and platform.
Q. How often should we get our kid’s eyes checked?
A. Anually. They should have had 3 examps before age 6.
Q. How do you encourage kids to wear glasses?
A. Be confident and feel healthy.
Marsai felt insecure about wearing her glasses to auditions. The first audition she wore them for was for her role on “Black-ish.” She said that part of the reason the casting directors liked her for the part were her glasses. She was obviously a great actress but they loved her glasses. You never know, the things we feel most insecure about can be the things that make us positively stand out. In the words of Marsai, she felt she could be the deepest version of herself after she received her glasses, she found self-confidence and she began to move forward to pursue her dreams.
Marsai is calling on all parents to put their child’s vision first and empower them this school year by taking them to the right doctor for their vision needs. Join Marsai in taking the Essilor 20/20 Vision Pledge. Pledge Now.