Dr. Abdul El-Sayed
I have the unhappy circumstance of working in a number of different spaces that get a lot of attention when things are not going right,” Dr. Abdul El-Sayed describes of the varying spheres his career occupies. El-Sayed, an Andover High School alum and current Ann Arbor resident, holds both a medical degree and a doctorate in public health. He rose to prominence in Michigan when he ran against now-Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the 2018 Democratic primaries on an unabashedly progressive agenda. This combination of medical and political expertise has made him a much needed voice over the past year.
“The pandemic, the election, the uprising for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd. The confluence across them is where I try to focus, so it has been a very eventful year,” says El-Sayed, who describes himself as “a physician and epidemiologist, justice advocate, and public communicator in the issues that I think we ought to be focused on in this country.”
He has become a regular commentator on CNN, especially for segments “where COVID gets political, or when we’re talking about the racial implications of our choices with respect to the pandemic.” He is also a prolific writer and podcaster, offering his unique perspectives and background to educate the public on the disparities he’s observed when it comes to access to healthcare.
El-Sayed was the youngest health director of a major city when, in 2015, he was tapped to run the city of Detroit’s. He left that post to run for governor, as his time there highlighted the racial disparities and inequities faced particularly by people of color.
Growing up in Bloomfield Hills, where his parents still reside, he said he spent more time in Detroit than many of his peers, but not as much as he would have liked.
The city has great importance to his family, as his father came to America from Egypt “to go to Wayne State.” El-Sayed spent many summers with his grandmother in Alexandria, Egypt. She had eight children, two of whom she lost before the age of one.
“That’s a lot more in common than the circumstances that I took for granted,” El-Sayed notes, but “I didn’t have to go 15 hours to Egypt to see that. I could go 15 minutes to Detroit. That was really what drove my commitment to medicine.”
His commitment to social justice causes led him to create Southpaw Michigan, a state-level public action committee (PAC) supporting down ballot candidates with progressive platforms using the fundraising lessons he learned on his own campaign. The majority of these candidates won in the 2020 election.
But there is still much work to be done. Here in Oakland County, his hope is that we “build out together and think about Oakland County as the major metropolitan that it is rather than competing within itself. That we continue to be a leader. We were the arsenal of democracy because of our capacity to innovate. That still exists in the DNA of our region. We have to invest and stop taking it for granted.”
Story: Hillary Brody Anchill