Diversity Symposium hosts keynote speaker Abdul El-Sayed

Courtesy Photo | Engage Central

Central Michigan University’s Sixth Annual Diversity Symposium hosted keynote speaker Abdul El-Sayed from 7 to 8 p.m, Thursday, April 8. This year's Diversity Symposium is dedicated to “contemplating privilege and discomfort.”  

In 2018, El-Sayed ran for Governor of Michigan endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. El-Sayed is an epidemiologist, author, and physician based in Detroit. Instead of speaking to a large auditorium, filled with inquisitive students, El Sayed discussed his experiences as a politician, advocate, and Arab-American virtually. 

“My goal today is to speak to the heart of...how far we yet have to go to take on racism in our society,” El-Sayed said. 

El-Sayed began by recognizing an important figure in his life, his “Teta," the Egyptian Arabic word for grandmother. El-Sayed said his grandmother is the, “wisest human being" he's yet to meet.

When visiting Egypt, El-Sayed’s grandmother would remind him how special he was because he had opportunities in America. 

“Those opportunities that I had,” El-Sayed said, “Aren’t born equitably in this country.”

As he grew up, El-Sayed, like many American children, learned about the history of racism and marginalization in the U.S. El-Sayed gave examples of racism in daily life that many fail to see, including education, environmentalism, and healthcare.

El-Sayed said he's grateful for his opportunities but asked spectators to recognize that not everyone has the same upbringing. He explained by using his own hometown as an example. Detroit's population is 80% African-American and many families have suffered due to redlining policies. 

El-Sayed did not grow up in the inner cities of Detroit and explains that until 9/11 he had only a “small taste” of the discrimination others faced every day.

El-Sayed remembers his name becoming unusual to airport staff and receiving selective security screening at every airport. For El-Sayed, “racism didn’t fundamentally change the opportunities, but it has destroyed opportunities for other people of color."

In his final thoughts, El-Sayed leaves audiences with a message. 

“I want to remind you, as far as we need to go,” El-Sayed said. “Let’s not forget how far we’ve come.” 

Learn more about El-Sayed by visiting his website. His book Medicare for All: A Citizen's Guide was published earlier this year by Oxford University Press and is available on Amazon.