Prior to working at Westside, Mary Ann worked as a researcher, clinician, and administrator in health care management and advocacy. Mary Ann has worked around the world in the area of trauma and her experience includes work with the African Union in Darfur, Sudan; Partners of the Americas, EDUCARE in Georgetown, Guyana to address childhood labor/trafficking and bring violence prevention strategies to youth; and, developing services for families impacted by sexual violence for the governments of Antigua, St. Kitts, and Nevis. Her work in grassroots program development, sexual violence, and mental health care literacy extends around the world and includes Kenya, Sudan, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Cuba, and the Caribbean.
How do you think Burke’s influenced or helped your journey to your current career?
Burke’s set me on a trajectory for success, which allowed me to have the kind of life that I have now. When I came to Burke’s, my mom was a single parent with three girls. We lived on Hayes and Buchanan and the neighborhood was somewhat rough back then. Burke’s was a really great experience for me and made me feel special. Which at that time, when I was one of the only Black students in the Lower School was extremely important for me. Everyone, teachers, students, staff were really nice to me, and I learned and heard, constantly, “You can do anything!”
Being at Burke’s, it felt like I was part of a family. It was a really positive experience, being around girls and women at Burke’s. Because of my experience at Burke’s, I chose to attend Mills College majoring in chemistry with a year in an exchange program at Spelman College. After graduating from college I moved to Washington D.C. to complete a Society for Neuroscience Fellowship at Howard University and later attended the Georgetown University Experimental Medical Studies Program which led me to HIV/AIDS research at SUNY Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse. I returned to San Francisco to work for the SF Department Of Public Health AIDS Office in 1987 at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
After leaving the SFDPH, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant at the Bay Area Perinatal AIDS Clinic at UCSF on the first AZT study with pregnant women. This was so exciting because I would go into my old neighborhoods, and offer HIV testing to pregnant women with substance abuse disorders. This was the first time that these women were given access to AZT and devoted physicians with experience in HIV/AIDS research and women’s health. But more importantly, this was the first time that these women were able to have children and babies that were born HIV-free.
After three years of intensive HIV/AIDS research and advocacy, I moved to India to work with women living with HIV/AIDS. My experiences in grassroots development were directly related to my education at Burke’s because I realized how important it is to give back and uplift women wherever I am in the world. My work has taken me to remote areas of Africa and along with my husband I’ve traveled and worked around the world.
While traveling with my husband in Pakistan, I learned that I was pregnant. I spent a lot of time with women and their children and, through this experience, became intimately involved with the Sudanese community living in Karachi, Pakistan. My experiences with this sisterhood of Sudanese women, who were wives of men working at Saudi Arabian Airlines, led me to write my dissertation on female circumcision and the ways women may be misunderstood or objectified when treated by Western doctors. I was eventually able to use this knowledge to develop OB/GYN manuals for local physicians and training programs at Highland Hospital in Oakland and UCSF in San Francisco.
I finished my doctorate and moved with my family to South Florida where I ran a sexual violence awareness campaign for Palm Beach County. I felt like I was carrying that spirit from Burke’s with me by working with women victimized by sexual and domestic violence and also leading an educational campaign for youth on sexual violence prevention. I was able to shape public policy and develop programming for immigrant women impacted by sexual and domestic violence after being appointed by then Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, to serve as his Vice-Chair on the Governor's Task Force on Domestic Violence. In 2004 I returned to San Francisco to care for my mother after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and I worked at Westside Community Services as the Clinical Director. Later I would become the CEO of Westside Community Services and have served in this role for the past eleven years.
I don’t know if I would have done all of this if I had not gone to Burke’s.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you hear “Katherine Delmar Burke School”?
- Dream Big
- Go Lancs!
- Best Years of My Life
What would you tell incoming kindergarten families about the journey ahead?
Cherish this experience and enjoy the journey.
What is your favorite memory from Burke’s?
The annual May Day celebration.
What is something you learned at Burke’s that you still carry with you today?
You can do anything with self-discipline and hard work.
How would you encourage Burke’s students and fellow alumnae to give back to Burke’s?
Connect with the Alumnae Office and volunteer.
What Burke’s experiences do you attribute to your personal or professional success?
The personal relationships that I had with Georgia Malan and David Fleishacker provided me with the encouragement and confidence to pursue my dreams. Through these relationships, I learned that I had a responsibility to do my best no matter what the circumstance.
If you had it to do all over again, your time at Burke’s and since, what might you do differently?
I would be a better student and take better advantage of all the opportunities that I had at Burke’s.