Imagine taking seven days to frame the entire world. The kind of patience it would take to ensure that the stars and the moon are in the right place. All sorts of fishes or sea monsters swim the oceans. Mountains and hills are perfectly framed with volcanoes ready to erupt as they please. Having such a patience with fine details would be sterling. Something that only the universe can accomplish on their own without any interruptions. Well I’m no universe and it’s taken me nine years to finally make sense of this dance I have been dancing with words. One that only fully came to reality in 1.5 years. So for close to 7-8 years, this dream that I had to simply write, was dormant. In fact, dead. Of course I wrote. But for others, not myself. Of course I will always write. But again for others, not myself. The dance with the mind, the communion between the writer and the reader is one that we must all guard at all cost. When I noted earlier that I was writing, truth is I was writing in the way others told me to write. I wrote in a manner that was pleasing for the scientific community. A style that required us to have sections that we called introductions or methods or results or discussions. Master this style and you have a career. I have made a career out of this style.

This year, I’m am 2 papers away in this style with earning my 100th paper. I discovered that just the other day as I finalized my performance review for last year. Many scholars would be thrilled to say that have 100 scientific papers, yet I felt truly sad for myself. Not that none of the work isn’t important but more so, because i have been dancing this scientific dance to the detriment of the minds I would rather serve. What I mean by this is that, in science, in science writing in particular, there is no communion with the average community. Of course, we dance with other researchers, many who themselves are prepared to dance like you. But honestly, I would rather that anything I write be in service of you. Anyone and not just researchers in the scientific community. I would rather that I dance with words for people who would never think to download any scientific paper but are curious about ways to stay healthy. It has taken a pandemic for me to get here. But now, I want my writing to be in service of humanity. I want to use words to change the world. It sounds like a dream and well, I am prepared to dream and work to make it come true.

When writers and readers manage to touch another’s mind through reading, the intimate, sustained surrender that is felt, without fear or interference, this dance of an open mind, fosters a particular kind of peace that requires vigilance. Securing that peace, the peace of a dancing mind, is our work. ‘There isn’t anybody else’ said Ms Toni Morrison in her little book ‘The Dancing Mind.’ I totally agree. She may be gone, but her words, are my source of inspiration. I hope to use this blog to help you experience your own mind dancing with my own. Securing this peace, the peace of the dancing mind, is now my life’s work. Rest In Peace Ms. Morrison. The dance continues…

I imagine when we meet. When our hearts and minds connect our steps will move to the rhythm of the beat. Our minds may wander. Your beauty is like thunder. The sound of cars beeping will bring us back to the reason for our meeting. If I must confess, you make me dream. You make me soar to high points through words that allow me to dream. Clouds maybe grey. Sunrise distant. But your brilliance, your ability to outshine grey clouds, is the reason life doesn’t frighten me at all. The reason I want to keep dancing with you. For these are unpredictable times and only our furious dancing will do.

I liked a paper shared on Twitter yesterday. It focused on why decolonizing geosciences mattered. I loved everything I read that I felt it was critical to keep some. The fact that we have been told that certain ways of knowing and doing are superior resonated deeply with me. That and the fact that for eons we have been told that local or indigenous ways of knowing are inferior. That experts are only outsiders with resources, and if they are coming from the West, even better. That expertise can’t come from insiders, those who carry treasures of their life within their core. Yet to address harm and change how science is done, we must deeply recognize how colonialism have benefited experts and not those with expertise for whom knowledge first belonged to.

This paper is a perfect example of why stories matters with any attempt at decolonizing anything and any field. The hunt has glorified the hunters for too long that all we know are the stories of the colonizers, the stories of the experts, the stories of the hunter. This is my attempt at changing this with this article and the work of many great minds as an inspiration. I simply call it tell your story with decolonizing anything, somethings, or everything. We have nothing to lose these days and so we might as well strut like the lions we are.

With decolonization, tell your story, they say.

While the legacy of the hunt lingers.

Tell your story, they say.

Or the hunt will continue to glorify the hunters.

Tell your story, I hear. The hunter has failed everyone, including those being hunted.

But you can’t decolonize anything. You can’t decolonize somethings. You can’t decolonize everything.

It’s a myth.

It’s a myth.

It’s a myth.

And decolonizing should mean much more said the powerful as they wield their power in powerful spaces they erect and maintain to keep telling the stories of the hunter, to maintain their power.

Yet, we know that we can’t decolonize powerful spaces.

We can’t decolonize powerful people.

They are hunters. Their weapons are mightier. Their impact last longer than a day.

But while the debate about the myth of decolonizing remains, while the powerful even join and lead the debate, are we supposed to be silent?

Are we supposed to watch and stare as they continue to cast their shadow?

Are we supposed to live as if we don’t have our own historians?

Are we supposed to continue to forget that we are lions? No.

Rather, the time has come for the lions to tell their story.

The time has come for the lions to have their own historians.

Like a tale by moonlight, let me begin with the following;

Story, story, story.

Story, story, story.

Story, story, story.

Writing grants has taught me how to fail 30 times. I look forward to the 31st time. Counting failures is something I do now. Something I embrace too. The hurdles or the joy. The writing. The waiting. The bearing witness to, how things we believe in crumble, for lack of funding. And I have believed in so many things that failed. Poured my blood into missions that ended before they even started. I am learning to love all the pain they entail, all the sadness too, or the weight of each failure. Not because success isn’t better. But more so for the lessons every failure teaches. The doors and unexpected journeys along the way they open too.

I wrote a grant on ways to arise, on ways to let minds often ignored thrive. Failing with that grant broke me down that I became the opposite of what we sought to do. My mind failed me too for awhile. Until I started to see the beauty in failing. See that grant would have changed my life but failing it too has opened new and unexpected doors for me. I expected to scream that we got funding to do great research but now I scream we have no funding, but impactful work continues. In fact the most important work you will do, is the work you do for free. The work you wake up everyday to simply do because you have too. The work you use to connect with each other as humans. The work you do to provide light to dark spaces. My grants are often for the eyes of few people to see. But the most impactful work I have done are free, open and accessible for all to see. It cost me nothing to use words, my words to change people’s life. I may have failed to secure funding for my grants, but every day and through my words, I secure hope that connects us to each other. This is the beauty of failure worth spreading. (ps another grant is being reviewed today as I type this, I may get my wish before next week with my 31st failure. Accepting each one gets better with time).

Dr. Milton Terris was an outspoken advocate for progressive Public Health Policy. See this article about him here. But briefly, ‘throughout his career, Terris was always an active and dedicated member of American Public Health Association (APHA): he served as secretary of APHA’s Medical Care Section from 1948 to 1952, a member of the section’s council from 1952 to 1959, a member of the APHA Executive Board from 1958 to 1964, and president in 1966 and 1967.’

Dr. Milton Terris

I came across some of the papers he wrote last month while running through the rabbit hole that is the archives of the American Journal of Public Health. I am a lover of history and nothing fascinates me more than the history of Public Health, the realization that this field is a circle that keeps turning around it’s axis, and in numerous occasions, falling short on its promise. Dr. Milton Terris was speaking about this some 30-50 years ago, hence my obsession today about one article I saw that complied his last words. They are powerful. Very apt for today and for all of us committed to serving the public and not ourselves. To think that all the thoughts in my head about putting the public first has once been echoed in the past makes our field exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Hence why I remain committed to learning the past in hopes that it will allow me and my team to understand better the crisis we find ourselves in today. So allow me to share through verses, the last words of Dr. Milton Terris. I hope they light a fire necessary within you to truly remain committed to serving the public in public health.

For the public, we have remained indefinitely in our ivory towers that have now crumbled all around us and those we serve. We remained without coalitions, a citizens coalition, made up of organized and unorganized workers, farmers, professionals, and other middle class citizens; women, Blacks, Hispanics, youths, senior citizens, and other minorities-in short, the majority of the people of our nation, who can and will assure that the principle that health is a human right, and not a privilege, will be realized for all.

We remained in the era of rampant selfism that served only ourselves and not the public we purport to serve. We remained committed to publications and conferences and not the fullest possible commitment, dedication and leadership to the public who have no access to our publications or conferences. We remained in a siloed pubic health agenda that continues to fail to ensure a peaceful, just, and hopeful society for all. We remained in privilege mode and not in humanity mode that ensures that health is a human right for all the public we serve. We remained in crocodile tears mode too rather than taking serious action to end racism, poverty and everything else working against the public we serve. We remained in lip service mode to prevention rather than advocating in deed and in word for a standard of living adequate for the maintenance of health.

We remained on the road to general principles and theoretical frameworks as if they are enough and will get us on the road that requires political will and moral courage to enact legislative measures on health for all the public we serve. We remained in recommendations mode too as if our public health crisis will go away with our evidence based recommendations rather than thoughtful and spirited analysis of the causes of the crisis and the definite and effective action to reduce their impact. We remained with our feet in clay rather than intensify our work on the defense of the public we choose to serve. But above all, we remain a generation whose discoveries are not translated into practice for the welfare of humanity in the shortest possible time, who continue to fail to create a new golden age that centers the public in everything about their health.

I know I have been dark and gloomy these past few days. My field has been dark for a long time. The crisis we find ourselves in isn’t new. We just lack the willpower to truly lead hence this darkness I feel for us. But today, I want to change course. Today, I actually want to use my platform to introduce light. We can act, we truly can do so as long as we gather as leaders to ignite and transform our field. That’s my hope anyways, that we will become the next generation truly taking action in word and deed, not in service only for our resumes but really for the public we serve. It will not be easy. They status quo will always prevail and rightfully so. They have over 120 years gap ahead of us so I don’t even expect to be in competition with them. This isn’t a race. But there is a sense of urgency that has been brewing for a long time and I want to be counted as those in generation public for the public’s health. I want to be counted as those in generation light for the public’s health.

I was inspired by the work of Paul Cornely, the first black President of the American Public Health Association. He was the first with so many other things too that I am so sad we don’t have a lot in his honor. This is my attempt to change that. I was inspired by an essay he wrote back in the 70’s about an ardor for change. It’s has taken over 50 years, but your enthusiasm for the field has been caught by a few of us and together we will work to bring light to the public’s health. Know too that all you suggested then about our society being sick, even the malady of racism is just as relevant as you are for today’s generation of light bringers for the public’s health. We all remain aware of the marked deterioration taken place in our society. We also know the irresponsibility and immorality of ignoring social issues too, social justice even or the right to health for all. And when we still evaluate all the field has done, it’s all remains little, 50 years later since your remark. And this pandemic has revealed openly the stark injustices that permeates our field to. The institutional racism you harped on 50 years ago, even among so called associations and experts, myself included, in service really to our curriculum vitae’s and not the public we purport to serve. So who remains in the business of the public’s health. No one, even in 2021 or in 2022. If I have been dark, it’s because our field has been left behind for so long that we could not even be called upon during the greatest and once in a lifetime pandemic that has killed over 850, 000 Americans and still counting. There are no great leaders in public health and not medicine, public health, leading the public at a time when the public desperately needs attention and care.

Dr. Paul Cornely

But now in moving this notion of light forward, in propelling light for public health, I penned the following verse inspired by Job (yea Bible Job). Our field can learn a thing or two about someone who lived through darkness. I hope you like it.

What if we sent light to places dark as death? What if we taught light to people that lacked insight? What if we gave light to those that wander confused and lost? What if we allowed light to flow to those who fall? What if we let light be the voice of the forgotten? What if we used light to direct the lives of all Gods’s creatures?

Then we might all become light. So long as we send light to the dark, teach light for insight, give light to the lost, allow light to flow, let light speak, and use light to direct lives and places as dark as even the forgotten public’s health.

In 1968, Dr. Morris Schaefer, a Professor and Head of Department of Public Health at UNC, Chapel Hill wrote a striking paper about the current issues in delivering better health services. He presented it at the 95th annual meeting of the American Public Health Association and many of what he shared then resonates with the state of public health today. In it he shared ‘how our incapacity to appreciate the character of the problems we face, may render us helpless when we encounter future challenges. Our field is not only confronted by new challenges, but also an increased urgency attached to old problems, new responsibilities, new functions, all at an increasingly rapid rates. Also with each
new challenge, comes the need to respond to continuing changes, all while maintaining the stability necessary for effective Public Health Service.’

If only our field heeded his advice in 1968. That and the idea that Public Health for better or worse is deeply enmeshed in political activity, despite the fact than antipolitical ideology persists. The handling of the pandemic is a glaring example of this. One section though that I choose to keep today is his focus on how ‘the past is still present.’ He was so thorough with the significance of the past and why we all need to have a reorientation in our attitudes about public health that it only makes sense to render it in verse for the present.

Without no further ado, read my keep below inspired totally by Dr. Schaefer entitled the ‘keep knowing that the past is present in public health:’

Public health faces a new day. While a hangover still remains.

Unsolved longstanding problems remain. Unfamiliar areas of services too.

Shortage of personnel remain. Solutions for the future too.

Conditions of uncertainty remain. Clamor for demands too.

Varied programs and goals remain. Complicated disciplines too.

Target populations remain unknown. The public we serve too.

Useful but limited textbooks remain. Old, standard associations too.

Struggles between agencies remain. Tensions across disciplines too.

Uneasy frontiers for public health remain. Uneasy boundaries between agencies and governments too.

Delusions of a old and well-propagated myth of the non-political character of public health remains. The persistence of the non politics myth too.

Lost opportunities remain. Lack of clarity of vision too.

Unsolved current problems still remain. An extension and intensification of past problems too.

Social problems significantly remain. The hands of the past on the future too.

Discerning local interests remain. Harmonizing initiatives too.

The need for imaginative and highly capable actions remain. Increased competency with information technology too.

Enormous strains on coordination remains. Responsibilities and resources too.

Long standing tensions among professional groups remain. Equal status of groups too.

The need for greater visibility with public health remains. Shortening lines of communications too.

Loss of potentially fruitful research remains. Duplicating research and services too.

Existing fragmentation of agencies remain. Business as usual too.

The urgency of problems affecting particular groups remain. Disruptive and limited responses too.

Struggles for allocations remain. Visibility and authorizations of those allocations too.

And so the continuing problems of the past remain. In the midst of new problems too.

Limited understanding of the persistence of these problems remain. So too our inability to solve them still (whether in 1968 or 2021).

Dr. Morris Schaefer address on current problems and issues with public health.

Go close to lions, even if afraid, at least you’ll be close to lions. Reach above the stars, even if you fall, at least you’ll land on stars. Run fast with wild deers. Even if you loose, at least you ran with deers. Fly high with eagles, even if you tire, at least you flew with eagles.

These are the life lessons i’m learning these days. A reminder to myself to always stay close to lions. Ooh yes that me, my early research days, being close to the king of the jungle himself.

Sometimes, it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways. I firmly believe this. To see the true manifestation of this word, also means you divorce yourself from the experiences and people who created or enabled those painful experiences to emerge in the first place. I wholeheartedly believe this. All the looking into why things happened or even why you let them happen is not the main crux of the issue. I am learning to believe this. Rather it takes a clear sense of you, to see yourself clearly in the situation. I am slowly believing this. Last year for me was full of pain on so many levels, both personally and professionally. Some of the pain were self-inflicted. I talk to much so I know that it can land me in trouble with people thinking I am belittling or undermining them. Far from it. My weakness remains a gift that can create pain. I am learning from this. Some of the pain lingers on, unable to fully detract myself or fully come to terms with why I feel like a black sheep in a room that once was inviting, celebratory even. To see how folks take their time to exclude you, take their time to remind you of how they even paved the way for you is unbecoming at times. It’s strange to see this all unfold too. But I wouldn’t even be writing this if it wasn’t meant for me to heal. I choose to believe this. Pain comes with rejection. I get that. It also comes with exclusion. I see that too. But most of all it comes with change. I am fully embracing this. It has taken me awhile to really say it to myself and out loud. But enough is enough. I choose me. I choose change. This one I believe. So if you don’t see me, if you don’t hear me, if you don’t even know me anymore. It’s not you. Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways. I am changing my ways so that I be. This one is for me. Keep learning from painful experiences.

Something about a new school year keeps me hungry and restless to learn something new. A new strategy, a new framework, a new innovation, a new story. This school year, I am taking lessons from the master storyteller herself. Though she is gone, Toni Morrison’s many many literary treasures continues to teach and inspire and help me soar to new heights, new possibilities, new dreams. Today, I am dreaming of a time when schools began the tumultuous journey to integration. Many may take it for granted that black and white children can go to schools together today. But there was a time this wasn’t the case. Toni Morrison’s book ‘Remember’ is a historical work for young people, full of archival photographs that depicted what happened after the U.S Supreme Court declared segregation in schools unconstitutional.

Through a fictional account of the dialogue and emotions of students who lived through the era, Morrison reminds us all to remember because and as she noted, ‘it’s the mind’s first step towards understanding.’ And so we begin a journey towards remembering, towards a time where there was as much hate as there was love, as much anger as there was hope, as many heroes as cowards. This fictional account of ordinary people living ordinary lives takes us to new journey, new friendships, new kinds of fear, and old kinds of emotions. A wide road maybe ahead, but the path towards it was narrow, often closed, before we even see a path. This was also a time when children had to be braver than their parents, when pastors, priests and rabbis walked with strangers. It’s this time that I choose to remember. Not because of the difficulties of this period, but more so for the path that unfolded, the brave people, brave children that walked through them, through closed doors into possibilities that make today glimmer with hope. We cannot forget this time and I urge whoever you are reading this to keep remembering too.

I remember the day we met. I was summoned to a meeting at a faculty office by the Director of Health for Student Services. He was a close friend to my family. I say summoned because I tried to excuse myself from it. My excuses too were valid as I was on maternity leave. I just had my second child a month ago. I knew he meant well when he said it was for a student and she needed help. I arrived at his office promptly. Something about helping out a student in need keeps me standing always. Upon my arrival, I met the student and her uncle. They explained her situation and asked if I would take her on as a mentor for her masters degree. I felt I had no choice seeing that I was summoned and reluctantly said yes. I had no clue as well where to begin, as I would be on maternity leave while she navigated being a student. That was nearly seven years ago.

Today, that student, boarded a plane to begin her tenure-track career as an Assistant Professor at Wake Forest University. Our relationship has now come full circle. We worked together extremely well in ways that make me even wonder how I would fare as she leaves. I remember the beginning days of writing with her. She has always been a writer but need a little bit of finesse. It took time, with revisions, and discussions, all from a place of wanting to bring out the best in her. She listened, revised, listened some more and wrote and wrote.

These days, all I do is give a sense of the topic, and she is off soaring. I don’t even have to discuss much, let alone revise. It’s perfect. That’s what I mean by full circle. That as mentors, those we guide, will do better than us, greater than us even, and beyond our wildest reach, our deepest depths. I have come across mentors who prefer you remain a mentee. Some are also willing to stifle your drive because you dared to thrive. Possibly without them too. Yet, they too forget, that the greatest gift they can give to those they guide is the circle. Once it’s complete, mentees should become ready to soar, even if they stumble along the way. Still rise on eagle’s wind and soar.

That’s my keep for you today. That as you start this new journey at Wake Forest, as you close one chapter of your life and open another, that as you complete this circle and begin another, that you will always rise like an eagle and soar to new heights. Reach to for what is highest within your capacity and quietly make your name known. You may be overlooked, even underestimated but the future belongs to those who dare fly. Fly Dr. Ucheoma Nwaozuru. It’s your future.