Abdul El-Sayed visits EMU for town hall meeting

Detroit health commissioner and candidate for governor Dr. Abdul El-Sayed came to Eastern Michigan University for a town hall meeting hosted by EMU College Democrats at 6 p.m., Oct. 23. 

Seventy-two people signed in to sit for a speech and Q&A session with the gubernatorial candidate in the Student Center room 310A. EMU College Democrats hosted the event, introducing El-Sayed who spoke for the duration of hour-long session. At particular statements, such as when he criticized current Michigan governor Rick Snyder’s response to the Flint Water Crisis, the crowd would snap their fingers or say ‘yes’ under their breath.

El-Sayed spoke first on his father emigrating to the U.S. from Alexandria, Egypt in 1978. His stepmother grew up in Michigan, having been in the same place for five generations, meeting his father through a mutual interest in engineering.

He related being raised in such a family to his interest in people. 

“Growing up in a family like this one I learned a couple things about myself – first, I really love people,” he said. “I love hearing their stories, understanding who they are, where they come from and, more importantly, where they’re going – what allows them to believe in a tomorrow greater then today.” 

He went on to talk about his career as health commissioner, taking on the position at age 30, making him the youngest health official of an American city. He spoke on his efforts to rebuild the department from a state of decay. 

“First day I walked in I walked into a department with five city employees and 85 contractors,” he said. “We were in the back of the building where people go to pay parking tickets in Detroit.” 

At the tail end of his speech, El-Sayed noted the often skewed statistics used by politicians use to make things sound better then they are. He also lamented the fact that many young, educated people move out of state to seek a career rather then remaining in Michigan. 

“Just anecdotally, I’m calling up my classmates from University of Michigan who graduated with me 10 years ago, and you know where they are now? Not in Michigan.” He said. “They’re in Chicago, LA, New York, D.C. – they’re building the futures of those economies because they don’t believe our economy has a future.” 

“Our politics have been polarized by a culture of fear – that we cannot see eye to eye with people that think differently then we do; that we can’t reach across divides whether they be regional divides or racial divides or religious.” He continued.

A little less then half an hour was dedicated to El-Sayed speaking, while the rest was given off to the crowd to ask questions. Topics ranged from criminal justice reform to evidence-based policy making. 

One student in the crowd referenced the state governor’s ability to select members for EMU’s Board of Regents, asking what kind of people El-Sayed would appoint if he won office.

“I would be looking for Regents who reflect the diversity of the student body and its faculty,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m empowering folks from communities that sometimes don’t get appointed like this.” 

The candidate received wide applause by the end of the session. Kangkana Koli, student programmer for the Center of Multicultural Affairs, had asked a question about the experience of immigrants in Michigan and how El-Sayed would help them. 

“I personally found his speech to be very motivating and inspiring,” she said. “His answer to my specific question was very honest and real in my opinion. I think his speech really had a lot of emotion and authenticity; it wasn't some speech he memorized to convince people to vote for him.”

El-Sayed said one of the important things for him during his campaign is inspiring young people. 

“We can be a part of building a kind of government and governance that dignifies the things that we want to lead onto our children,” he said. “That’s excited – coming to places like this and having conversations with young folks that are here – that’s what it’s about. 

The Michigan gubernatorial election will take place Nov. 6 of 2018. 

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