Since 1975, Detroit businessman George P. Barnes Jr. has overseen Heritage Optical Center and Heritage Vision plans, providing vision services and insurance in Detroit and across Michigan. Barnes’ Heritage Optical Center is Detroit’s first Black-owned and operated optical dispensary has amassed a number of high profile clients across the state over the past four decades.
Barnes, a 1961 graduate of Eastern High School, became interested in optometry after a white doctor told him there were no Black people in the field. This piqued his interest and he studied optometry during a stint in the Army and also via an internship with the now-defunct Metropolitan Hospital in his hometown. He remained on staff as an optician at the end of his internship.
While he thrived in the position, he ran into a roadblock when he was passed over for a position at the hospital. Instead of wallowing in anger, Barnes took a leap of faith and started providing low cost repairs and eyeglasses adjustment. As word spread of his skill, Barnes recognized the need for a full optical dispensary that could provide exams, eye wear, fill prescriptions and other related vision needs.
The late Mayor Coleman Young, Detroit’s first Black mayor, mentored Barnes early on and helped him achieve much of his early business goals. This would eventually lead to the opening of Heritage Vision in 1991, which has provided vision plans for Detroit city employees and the Ford Auto Company among several state and local clients of varying levels.
Heritage Vision Plans is the only African-American owned business to have what is known as an Alternative Financing Delivery System (AFDS) Certificate of Authority from the state of Michigan. The AFDS certificate allows the company to provide managed vision care plans and fully covered vision care plans.
In an interview, Barnes credits Mayor Young and Muhammad Ali as inspirations. Barnes has no intentions of slowing down as he seeks larger corporate clients across the nation to embrace his vision plan program.