Sylvia Owusu-Ansah MD, MPH, FAAP, speaks at a podium to a gathering of healthcare workers at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Presbyterian on June 5, 2020

Good News: Doctor Takes Fight Against Social Injustice in Poem for Her Daughters

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In our final installment of our "Good News" series, we talk to a children's doctor who is fighting social injustice.

Sylvia Owusu-Ansah MD, MPH, FAAP, has taken care of thousands of children as director of pre-hospital and Emergency Medical Services at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Children whose eyes were so red and swollen they could not see. Children who have trouble walking. Children on the brink of death.

On May 30, Owusu-Ansah, 42, wrote a poem on Facebook that asked: “Will you take care of my children?” Owusu-Ansah is black, her husband is white and they worry for their daughters, aged 12 and 4. The country remains in a state of civil unrest with massive numbers of protests and calls for social justice after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a black man. Owusu-Ansah asked these questions for her daughters, for whom she wants a future devoid of prejudice and mistreatment.

'Will You Take Care of My Children'?

“As an African-American female with bi-racial children considered black in this country,” Owusu-Ansah wrote in her Facebook post, “I ask you this question:

Will you take care of my children?

Will you take care of my children when they walk into a store to buy something?

Will you take care of my children when they are driving a car?

Will you take care of my children when then decide to wear their hair natural and flaunt their West African heritage?”

Owusu-Ansah is also making her voice heard outside of social media circles. She served as the lead speaker in a June 5 rally of about 200 healthcare workers from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Presbyterian to speak against racial injustices. It's part of a "White Coats for Black Lives" movement.

Her institution is taking action to increase diversity. It's created a vice chair of diversity position, have two diversity and inclusion committees, put together an anti-racism statement and created a pipeline mentorship program for minorities in the community to go into medicine.

As a mother and black woman, Owusu-Ansah's fight against social injustices continues outside the walls in which she treats sick children. And lest we forget, this is all taking place while inside those walls she and her colleagues continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, for which she’s worried not only for the well-being of her patients but also her own and her family's health.

Owusu-Ansah told CMSWire messages such as Romans 12:21 ("Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”) and Galatians 6:9 ("Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up") inspire her.

Learning Opportunities

“The same tenets from thousands of years ago stand: love, faith and hope,” the physician said. “This is the message I want to share with the world and my children, and this is the message that was in my poem. We must all hold to these truths and truly ‘love thy neighbor.’ I did state during my speech as well it takes a village. MLK could not move the civil rights movement forward without the likes of RFK.”

Sylvia Owusu-Ansah MD, MPH, FAAP, speaking at a podium.

A Broken System, a Real Epidemic

Owusu-Ansah wants her children to know that racism is real and that it's not OK. People will try to justify their way around it and rationalize that people are not really racist, and that the recent murders of black men and women are not related to racism.

“I also let them know I understand the anger and grief behind the protests and ‘being fed up,'" Owusu-Ansah said. "I am teaching them it is OK to be beyond disturbed and angry about injustice and call racism for what it is. It’s OK to use those emotions and energy behind those events to create real change in a positive way. I believe taking the higher road can change things.”

Owusu-Ansah has preached to her daughters that George Floyd was a father, a son, a brother and a friend and protector who senselessly lost his life as a result of racism, like many other African-American brothers before him.

A photo collage of two photos -- on the left, Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, and on the right, her two daughters holding hands and jumping.

“I remind them that they are human beings who deserve to be respected, loved and honored and not only recognized when something bad has happened to them,” Owusu-Ansah said. “I remind them that our system is broken and that racism is a real epidemic in this country, and as colored people society has preconceived notions about us that force us to live in fear, but we do not have to succumb. I let them know our character is predetermined by our skin color and not who we really are.”

Evil and hate can be conquered, Owusu-Ansah said, if we live our lives selflessly. "We should always strive to help one another within the black community to continue to lift one another up at all costs and not live in our silos once we've 'made it,'" she said. "If we make it, we should not forget. We should never get to a place where we forget."

Editor’s note: This is our final article in our “Good News” series, in which we gave a voice to people and groups who brought good news to the world in times of duress. Although the series brought us into territories beyond our usual coverage, we hope it provided some smiles and hope for a better future.