I have been thinking a lot lately about ways to dismantle the master’s house. It took centuries to build. So toppling it would come at a cost. And I’m open to the cost. Picture this, almost all the work we do in my field, close to 90% of the publications we write for the public’s health will never be read by the public. I don’t mean by fellow academics or even our students, but lay every day citizen. Almost all of them will never read our articles because it was never meant for them even though we claim and argue it’s their health. I am also aware that one cannot use the masters tool to dismantle his house. The late great Audre Lorde made this abundantly clear when she asked to move beyond temporarily beating him as his game. Yet, survival is not an academic skill she would say. It’s a necessity for those of us who seek something different like bringing the public into public health. That’s why I have been thinking. My ideas remain hazy. Storytelling is at the front. But I’m sure it and other ideas will be torn apart before they make sense, but I’ll keep thinking. Time to topple the house is now. Future generations depend on this.
What good is a seed without soil? These words echoed by Father Cullen our Jesuit Priest during his last mass with us today has me restless. To germinate and become a flower or a fruit tomorrow requires fertile soil. So what then is your stance once you realize that seeds and soils go together, like raindrops and water. My stance is to stay in the middle of it. To burrow deeply into the soil and mark your territory. Of course the terrain will be rough. The deeper you get, tough too for any seed still requires certain conditions to bear fruit, like water and sunlight. I say still dig deep. Become one with the soil. Get to know the depths you go and love every single terrain you come across. Don’t wait to for when you become a flower or a fruit to tell your story. Rather step inside, with your paper and pencil or phone and write. Tell every single aspect of your story, of how you became one with soil. It’s impossible to become something other than a seed without some commitment to the soil, a kinship even. Commitment runs right through seeds and soils. Like the sun on sunny days or rain on rainy days. Every condition is committed to the end. Just like Father Cullen and his commitment with our Saint Matthews church. Though this day has arrived and he will now be leaving us, we still remain his seeds. And what good are we without him.
My daughter got a very intricate dragon kite for her birthday last month. It was complex to me. It has 2 large green and black wings. Four long red ribbons lined the 2 edges of the wings. There were black wires that one had to put end to end so the wings stood in place. All of this were attached to a long white rope that kids can use to fly the kite in the sky. I assembled the kite for them awhile back. At least I managed to put the black wires end to end so the wings can stay in place. That was all I could do. I tried to unruffled the rope so they could fly the kite but to no avail. All my attempts meant that nothing flew in the end. Not the dragon nor it’s lavish red ribbons. That is until this morning.
I watched from the window as my daughter and her brothers took a stab at making the kite fly. They worked on the wings, fixed the dragons tail, even strung the rope as best as the could. Then she ran. My daughter ran and the kite, I couldn’t fly, flew right behind her. Her brothers were delighted. I was too amused. Here was a kite that I gave up trying to fly because it was to complex, but my kids didn’t give up. They tried and tried until they got the outcome they wanted. Which is my keep for today is to remember being child-like as you soar or fly your kites.
Whereas I gave up, because it was too complex and intricate, my kids didn’t. They stood up to the challenge and learnt something in return; that they are at very center, the very heart of all the possibilities that resides in them, all the boldness too. They instinctively gravitate towards problems, those great and small, those within that capacity to solve and those they barely know where to begin. They also collaborate or reach out to others for help. I watched as my sons stood patiently behind the dragon as my daughter made sense of the rope for flying. Her brothers fixed the green tail, the lavish red ribbons and were right behind her cheering her on as she took flight with the kite. Something about this moment made me realize that we are all part of something bigger when we open up to problems together. Also, we all need some of the energy and optimism of children. They boldly go where adults may fail to go and they never give up especially when things they love are involved.
This combination of possibilities and being bold, are fundamental life lessons that remain long after you pass through childhood. It’s also one of the greatest blessings I have as a black mother in light. Granted, there are days when giving up is necessary, a self-care remedy even, for a world so corrosive to our being. On those days, I am like myself when I tried to make sense of the kite. I’ll do my part, make sense of what I can, and let go of what I can’t. But on the days full of possibilities, days full of audacity, I am like my children and their dragon kite. I never give up. We give up at our cost. For I remember when flying kite was a child was magic. It’s probably the reason I buy kites every summer for them. A child’s ability to make sense of the kite, to watch as it rises up on wings, and soars through the wind, has always been powerful to me. I always felt alive, watching something we make fly. This question of being bold and knowing your possibilities is very important to me, and when you watch children, my children put it into practice, I am thankful. They helped me return to my childhood watching them fly their kite over and over again. I intend to remain like them as I fly my kite. The possibilities are endless indeed.
I have been excavating other ways of being lately. Other ways of being together too. Other ways to imagine interior lives seldom shared. This unending murmur is part of the noise I narrate. Of motherhood, for example, for mother’s that are black, mothers in academia, mothers with little children, mothers finding themselves still, while being nurturing, as we navigate this space we find nourishing, note-worthy too.
Sometimes, my desire to write about my experience is clear. Inspirations come from all angles too. Like my children, or flowers, like Dahlias and their thick opulent petals, that unfurl, ever so softly with every swirl.
Sometimes, I am moved by the scent of life, the power of meaningful experiences etched in my memories. Like my baby’s first crawl, or his first steps. His first words too, in repetition, over and over again, like da da, or ma ma, unlocks feelings that I have to air in some way, of the multitude of ways learning with life occurs, especially when you stop and kiss the ground, like babies do when crawling or walking.
Sometimes the words come to me, like a whisper. I am obedient to the power of language. Words are supposed to be useful, supposed to move you. So I listen, and dig deeper, down to the hole where the message resides, where the sightings of water, like in a deep well, becomes clear. I listen to tell you about this interior life, full of knowledge that flows through me with words I put together. Though I have no time to tell you everything, I am an overflowing oasis, open and obedient to opportunities, that are opulent, like Savannahs after rain, opportunities that offer to help me move onward in ways that are truly outstanding. So we move and organize possibilities way beyond our abilities. The sound and action of all the possibilities I have, my silence transformed to action, my survival taught as strategies, my stories in the making, those told and still formulating, all of them is so you hear me differently, see me differently too, beyond the spaces you choose or the mirrors you use to shape what you think I am becoming. I need not respond to anything. For my fears are not new, they are not old, even though they are not told.
This constant state of remaking, restorying too, is so you see and feel the story I am becoming. The stretching of my mind, the injection of creativity, of flowers and birds, of trees, and their hidden stories, all help to tell the stories that rally, stories that sustain, stories that oppose all you think about black mothers in light. To be one, to become one, to clear the path towards light, in the middle of darkness is an audacious task. Even if what I write, what I say only touches your soul one time, I have won. For to transform this silence, to use words to bring it out, and pour it in a space, not constrained by others is transformative. I am transformed in process. You are too.
Hence the purpose of this keep. To help you, me, express what I already know but may fail to say. That to be silenced is not without voice. To lack funds to is not without will. There is a way. Another path exists, however muted the path you wanted may seem today. The potential for light, the potential to rise from darkness to light resides in you. It is in you and always has. So keep rising. Your words, your light is the first opening of possibilities. You are important. You are valuable. Your light is inevitable. Keep creating art and words with your life.
Dahlias are intense flowers like mother.
A league on their own, each petal is a colorful ray, of doubled flowers, in yellow or purple-ray florets, whites, ivories, and scarlet rays too. All in multiple whorls of ray flowers, all forming circles, forming clusters, forming bunches so compact, that it can only be described as motherhood. Dahlias are like mothers to me, so intense is the experience to me.
Their golden round and its countless petals, are like countless stars, that circle my being, with a stillness, so formless, so nameless, and so restless. The sighting of Dahlias are like mothers on days things are barely fathomless, days things are formless, even days we feel so flawless.
Dahlias indeed are stars. The blind see nothing. Both those who see, open their hearts. Their minds too open. To a stillness that is forever dazzling, forever haunting, each glimpse, forever brilliant, forever etched in memories as with days forever mesmerizing or days forever feeling helpless, or forever full of deep thoughts, that maybe forever inspiring while at the same time, make your feel forever dreamless, until moments become once more forever captivating, forever full of passion, in the midst of wild terrains that are forever demanding, even as you stay forever looking, yet feel like everything is forever in vain. Dahlias and their intricate whorls are forever full of surprises with every whorl which summarizes all that motherhood forever epitomizes.
The mere sightings of Dahlias galvanizes you to become one with all you desire, all you despise, all you disguise, even all you downsize as your journey from your base to your inner interior, the space where you hide your deepest desires, first for you, the place where all your dreams resides, all for you.
I have been there before. Of feeling lost, yet finding myself, of knowing how to proceed, yet loosing my way, but everything slowly making sense once my eyes greeted Dahlias.
Time stood still for Dahlias. They invite you in, invade your being, demand that you literally stop to recognize them, greet them, with all you possess, all within your power to soar as you devise ways to harmonize being one with your inner strength, one with this intricate flower. This is what Dahlias are known for. An inner strength so haunting, that you may fail to recognize the moment you give your self away to all the flower symbolizes. You may have been here before. Every time your eyes meet Dahlias. The sighting burrows deep in your soul. Like the soft kiss of a breeze. Dahlia’s kiss are forever captivating, forever etched in memories, that are forever lasting.
Yellow Dahlias gently kissed me while taking my baby to his daycare this week. Red ones too, ushered a tenderness so divine, gently caressing my restless heart, like fine wine. Slowly, I pressed forward, running out of excuses to delay this moment. He was supposed to start last week. It was his first time, and my heart and speech where rambling in chaos. Even though this was the day we have been waiting for.
I have been here before, with three other children. But something about baby number 4 made me nervous, made our day restless. Nothing was packed properly. Not his snack, not his water bottle, not his bag. Nothing was labeled properly either, not his diapers, not his wipes, not his bag. I should be happy. I should be pleased. No troubled mind, no demanding time. No breastfeeding, not restless feeding. Finally, all my children will be out of the house. Finally, all time, would be mine to claim. Sleep too. Yet, I was restless, nervous too. I fought through pain, until Dahlias met my eyes. With their sweet embrace, they encircled my being, forcing me to rise, to open to the sweet tenderness of this moment. Like the warmth of deep blue skies, I opened to their sweet embrace.
These are some of the secrets that I tend to keep hidden until now. Tend to ignore, dismiss too, until now. Stopping to recognize the power of opening up, was the gift I got from Dahlias. That and letting go. Of all the pains and joys of motherhood. The hopes and dreams we have that slowly dissipate, when we put others first. Slowly die, when we fail to put ourselves first. Even when we give our children the will to fly. We forget to fly too, afraid we will fall. I should be happy. I told myself 100 times, it will be okay. I knew this. We have been here before. Letting go, was painful. Unleashing a power, that made me rethink this moment, this freedom, this time that I knew would come one day. All children have to grow up. My baby, my last born, the one I bore during the pandemic was slowly walking to embrace all that life has to offer. I should be happy. Yet I felt lost.
I was lost, until Dahlia found me.
I was lost in its petals. This ethereal beauty, filled my restless soul with ease. Our greeting was gentle, a soulful ease. Like lovers we caressed each other, gently took hold of each other. With stillness so profound, so earth shaking. Time stood still, and Dahlias held me captive. We held on to each other. Afraid to blink, our eyes remain captivated by each other. Letting him go became easy. Watching him go with such reverence, became easy. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and caught him as he looked back. I saw something. Movements he initiated. Eyes locked with mine. As if to say are you coming. I am, always and forever, behind you, looking at you, loving you, captivated by you, inspired too by you, my baby, even as your journey through this world, through life. Keep Dahlia’s in mind for your journey through motherhood.
My mental health is my priority always. I learnt that the hard way when others and their state of mind almost subsumed mine. I chose me. I am pleased and applaud Simone Biles for choosing herself too. I think there is no other black young woman that personifies visually what audacity truly entails. She tells a visual story of being young, gifted, and black with grace and triumph at time when the wisdom, the strength, even the perseverance of black and brown people, our young girls in particular are under assault. Simone Biles rises above them all and will forever be one of the great players that ever graced us with her human capacity to fly. And she is brilliantly flying, soaring above us all even these moments when becoming, fulfilling, living, is her bull’s eye. She is on target.
I remember watching one of her daring moves in the air recently. She was as flawless as a glistening moon on an equally flawless evening. Every land, every turn, every single move was divine. Every split in the air equally sublime. To think she is only 24 keeps me in awe of her audacity to defy and surprise every single inch of her design with every incline. She is audacity personified. Something we mere mortals will never truly understand, how she dares to align herself with things as distal as the sky and its lines. She gives flights to our hopes, our timeless desires to remain hopeful in a state where being full of hope is a quest long denied to children born out of hope. Her staying power will remain long after she steps out of the limelight. She will still delight, still defy, still be as distal as skylines. She is more than a gymnast, more like a national treasure who glory will forever last.
Last week the U.S Surgeon General issued an advisory that declared ‘misinformation as a public health threat.’ In a blue document with massive bold letters in white, he argued that we need to begin the process of confronting misinformation by ‘building a healthy information environment.’ I was intrigued and kept scrolling down the document to understand for myself what he meant by the terms ‘a healthy information environment.’
I also welcomed the invitation to ‘limit the spread of health information as a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of society effort.’ His words. The table of contents seemed easy to follow with suggestions on the ‘what’ people can do whether as individuals or educators or journalists or even funders and of course the government. There was even a ‘where do we go from here’ section that increased my curiosity with the report. But from the first page, the background, the report lost me and I am sure the public. None of this centered the ‘public’ in public health.
There is a reason why health misinformation is so rampart these days and it has nothing to do with long backgrounds, even those focused on correct health information. We fail and continue to fail the ‘public’ if the words we use to speak to ‘public’ doesn’t include language or even tools that makes sense to the ‘public.’ I wanted to root for this document because of the seriousness of the topic, because this is literally a life and death matter and people, black and brown lives are dying everyday because of health misinformation.
Then it dawned on me, if I took a camera and walked down the streets of Harlem or Newark, or Augusta, or Pittsburgh, or even went to stores like Sam’s Club or Costco, would people be able to tell me what if anything they remembered from the Surgeon General’s advisory. Would they even know it exists?
There in lies the dilemma with health misinformation. While the public health experts are so focused on what it is or what it is not, the ‘public’ is focused on the why in the forms of stories they pass on to each other, through words and languages and other mediums that make sense to the ‘public.’ There is a reason why social media is widespread and content is viewed as powerful. People are expecting from public health, serious comments about their lives using tools and language that make sense to the ‘public,’ that speak to the ‘why.’ They are not expecting the ‘what.’ They are expecting connections, truths, even art and spoken words that say things important to help them with life, their health. The sooner we understand the ‘why’ of health information, the quicker we can begin to center the ‘public’ in public health. This is what is meant by public health to me these days, a deliberate focus on the public’s health, not by us the experts but by the public first.
We spend too much time focused on the ‘what’ of health that we forget the ‘why’ in public. There is a reason why stories live on long after the storyteller has ended the story. We can start there by bringing back stories to public health. Poetry too. As a tool, whether spoken or listened too, poetry can humanize us, make us whole, both emotionally and intellectually. Art can do the same. Art for and by the public can be intentional and life-sustaining with centering the public in public health. While letters to the public, like a ‘Dear Public Health’ can help the public confront the worst so as to be free to experience the best that is unshakable in public health, the ‘public.’
It is always about the ‘public’ after all. Our future depends on listening, seeing, feeling, daring even to center the ‘public’ in public health. We are all amplified when we center the ‘public’ in public health. That should have been the main crux of the advisory, a foundation through which to dismantle the public health threat that is health misinformation. We have miles to go but if we want to end this war, as it’s a war to, with casualties increasing everyday, the ongoing pandemic being a clear example, then we have got to bring back the ‘public’ in public health.
My life is not my own. So I give myself away so you can use me. This song by William McDowell is my keep as I start this week. This is the week where I learn whether it’s time or not for God’s plans to be fulfilled in his child. So if God then is for me, who can be against me, is the song I sing. If God is with me, whom shall I fear when everything is by his design. Also the fact I could never make this on my own. So I literally give myself away.
When I look back over all I have done the past few months, I realize with each passing day that I never could have made it without God. So giving myself to him is easy. He has always been before me. Psalm 139 reminds me that he knew this week, this day would come when I was still being formed in the womb. That’s the part that keeps me in awe, win or lose. Everything is according to his design. There is no one like him. Who can ever stop us when our God is greater, stronger, higher than anything even awesome in power. It has always been about him after all. It’s his plans, it’s his work, it’s his words, all written through me, but for his glory.
I am stronger because he allowed me to use the gifts he gave to me for his glory. I am wiser because I would do it again whether I fail or even win. I know how to still win even when I fail. That part keeps me grounded. Failure is always an option with God on your side. It’s all for his glory still and I am just a vessel that he uses to bless his children, uses to light a path, blaze a road through a vast forest of nothingness. I could not do any of this without him ordering every single step. So win or lose, being discussed or not, is all a reminder that if he is for me, who can be against me. If he is for me, whom shall I fear. And if no one knows me, he still adores me and I will do my part to remain his light. For a city built on a hill cannot be hidden. I cannot be hidden. Keep giving yourself away to God.
Things that combine intellect and instinct are rare. They are like a string bean. Tall, but compact, yet full of insights that would make you green. Their seeds are not only clean, but desirable and plump in pods that are always ready for transportation, transformation too. That everything that combines intellect and instinct will under favorable conditions develop into something worthy of praises, with desirable qualities worthy of embracing, emulating even, is my keep for today. Radiant Health Magazine with its fruitful marriage of intellect and instinct is a rare magazine.
I personally know the Editor in Chief. So I can see why some may think that I write these words to please her. On the contrary, despite being in production for seven years, despite knowing all her struggles, all her resilience, I never bought a copy until 3 weeks ago. I am her biggest supporter, but I didn’t include my finances into all her hardwork until recently. Granted, it was a motherhood issue. If you have being following my blog, you will know I have a soft spot for all things black and motherhood, especially things that highlight our possibilities and not our deficits, things that combine our intellect and instinct with sweetness and tenderness worthy of praises. Her motherhood issue turned me into a firm believer and subscriber. Over 184 pages in premium silk paper. Let me repeat that again, paper made with premium silk materials adorn the pages of Radiant Health Magazine.
Ben Okri once described resilience as being weird, with a future bristling with possibilities. And when you heal from the process, when tomorrow comes and you flower and bear fruit, like a Savannah after rain, you will amaze. Radiant Magazine is like a rain-filled Savannah. All it brings into being, possibilities, philosophies, motherhood, or even self-care, are unexpected gifts that keep giving long after one issue is closed and another begins. It’s combination of intellect and instinct transcends the limitations we impose on the possibilities of health for black women by black women. There is always something beautiful, there is always something vulnerable, there is always something straight-up, all spoken with an eloquent grace, tailor-made to soothe all aches black women face like a restorative balm. Grab a copy for yourself to see and feel what I mean.
Let me close with this, James Baldwin once said that the precise role of an artist, is to ‘blaze roads through a vast forest.’ Audre Lorde said something similar about the necessity to ‘journey towards a deeper self, to express the power of our knowledge and experience, as we find the courage to tell the truth.’ ‘To become more appealing and rewarding with every reading, always starting new ripples of significance’ is what Chinua Achebe described as the hallmark of work with a heightened sense of life. While Adrienne Rich would suggest that ‘as women, we have our work cut out for us if we are to usher the possibilities of change from a Western male-dominated world.’
Radiant Health Magazine is blazing roads as it makes its purpose known one issue at a time. It pulls us all in, probing deeper and deeper to help us rediscover and know the meaning of our journey as women, black women, and our discerning self, our intersectional selves too. The special gifts are the combination of intellect and instinct, a combination so deft that the outcome is a haunting beauty that resonates with clarity. You keep taking good care to ensure that black women are not invisible, that we are not silent, that we are not ignored, that we are not dismissed, that we are not forgotten. Your vision is clear, like a fine crystal glass that is equally sterling. Keep being dedicated to the discerning black woman, keep accelerating knowledge of her ways, her being, keep illuminating paths to her wellness, her health, her beauty, her culture. You do it so well, that all I can say is keep being Radiant. I applaud you!
We come home to ourselves. Our realized desiring selves. We also come home to spaces that are loving, spaces that are giving, spaces that are nurturing, spaces full of awareness, spaces that enable looking. Of all these spaces, looking is my keep for today.
Bell Hooks once described a power in looking. A power also with choosing to stop looking. She described it as a gesture of resistance. And when you return to looking, when you return after turning away, an oppositional gaze emerges. I am in this space, these days.
Not to be confrontational or difficult or even disrespectful, I am finally understanding the pleasure of saying no. I understand now what it means to say no to structures which had asked so much from me when I assumed a posture of subordination. Saying no is a radical gift that I gift myself these days, a gift that I use to nurture and protect me.
In the past, I was the first with ideas. I still am in circles that value my intellect. I was the first to say yes, to give myself fully to such spaces because we were all fighting the same beast. The truth is, our battle was personal and we wanted to come out victorious and unharmed. Until the fight turns on you. Until you realize you are now the beast and your head is on the chopping block. Hence why looking becomes critical.
Bell Hooks described this as having an oppositional gaze. Mainstream research circles in no way acknowledges that black women can thrive on their own. You don’t have to ask me, just do a quick search on who gets funded and you will see that they are not black or female. Look also at those in power in whatever space you find yourself in and again, whether at a grocery store or at a hospital, chances are that your leader isn’t black or female.
It’s for this reason that an oppositional gaze becomes vital, viral even if you are black and female.
Mainstream circles will remain ‘aggressively silent on the subject of blackness and representations of black womanhood,’ noted Bell Hooks. Many disallow the ‘possibilities of spaces, places even that include black women’s voices. It is also difficult to talk when you feel no one is listening, when you feel a special narrative has been created that only the chosen can understand’ she states. Yesterday, I was in such a space.
I know I shouldn’t be using this medium to air personal grievances. But I want growth and I need to continually gift myself the freedom to just say no to spaces that fail to enable me to discover or uncover all that I have. I did that internally, silently too when demands were asked. Not because I could not speak, but because it is difficult to speak when no one is listening. It’s is also difficult to speak when you are not valued.
So I stayed mute and looked. I stayed mute and applied Bell Hook’s oppositional gaze. I shared my thoughts with friends and they said, staying mute doesn’t help you grow. I disagreed. It helps me. That’s all that matters these days.
After going through this pandemic (we are still in it too), after going through moments of chaos with homeschooling, moments of stress with raising children, all I want these days are moments of healing for myself.
Even though silence will not protect me, and Ms. Lorde would want for me to transform it to action, I am, but for myself. I am learning to say no for myself first. This gesture protects me from whatever they think they have in store for me. I say yes always and all the time to spaces worthy of my yes. I say yes to spaces and people that know my worth.
I keep learning this every day. The power of saying no, the power of saying yes. It’s mine to gift first, to spaces that nurture and protect me. Spaces unafraid to affirm my subjectivity. My yes these days belong to people that are not afraid to hear me speak. People that know that my words are just that, words, with no desire to harm but to help them grow. People that don’t make me speechless. I was not born to be speechless.
This power that I gift myself, this power of oppositional gaze is to protect myself for the violence perpetuated and advocated in spaces that would rather I stifle my growth. And if I describe it as violence, it’s because this is still a battle, and the goal remains being victorious and unharmed. Writing in this way, about the power of oppositional gaze, makes my healing possible. I am also learning that there is more to looking. Keep it for yourself, especially in spaces where you gift yourself the power of saying no.