I usually write in the morning. It’s my best time for thinking. But the past few weeks my mornings have been preoccupied with work. I have been in grant writing mode since the start of March. It’s has been a painful and bittersweet journey to get back into. The last time I went on this journey was about a year ago and well, I failed. So to get back on it again is full of trepidation. But still I continue. When your mind is as chaotic as mind, grant writing can truly become an obsession. Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Beautiful Struggle noted how when he obsessed, he wanted only what he wanted and gave no attention to other matters. Grant writing is like that for me, a beautiful struggle that keeps me transfixed whenever I begin. Someone asked awhile back to a catalogue my grant writing process. How do I begin and how do I end?

Grantwriting is like a beautiful struggle!

For starters the beginning is full of doubts. I try to find any reason not to write a grant, not to put myself through the process, not to even think that I may have any idea and that the idea may indeed be valuable. In the beginning, I dread the grant writing process. But then slowly it’s like I am bitten by a bug. A grant bug. I look for the deadlines. If it’s 2-3 months away, then it’s potentially doable. But more doubts creep in. Who are co-conspirators? Is it worth bringing them along? What will they add? Why even bother? There are more doubts in the way of starting any grant journey. They key is to wrestle through it with different folks until the bug bite becomes an itch that simply won’t go away. The more you scratch, the more the ideas start to make sense until you plunge headfirst, into a grant writing abyss that takes you on an never ending journey towards many unknown. I am currently on that journey. They doubts are still intense but the people I keep meeting across this journey are the fuel I need. Take for example today. I was in a room full of black scholars. All seven of us have one degree or the other and we came in all shades of brown skin so divine, that it makes you want to join Beyonce and say just how beautiful we are when we come together for our people. I have no idea where this particular grant journey is taking me. I am also prepared to fail. That’s another part of my process that I share with every one I encounter from the beginning. We may fail but I would still rather go in this journey with you. It’s is a journey after all and like I always say, I am glad I have a plan. Surrounding myself with the right people, learning from them, adapting or changing the course of the grant where necessary all while nurturing that which makes us unique is the reason I absolutely love grant writing. I keep diving head first to as it’s it’s a journey from the head to the soul for me and with the right people, i am prepared to fail. But what if we are transformative. That then is the start of an endless journey, once that the destination is still unknown. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything else (singing Brown Skin Girls)…

One of my favorite aspects of the novel Anthills of the Savannah’s by Chinua Achebe is the focus on the power of the story and the storyteller. In it Achebe reminds us of ‘stories being our escorts, and our guides’ through life. Some people, the novel notes, have been given the gift of leadership, summoning their fellow citizens to rise to the sounding and timing of battles. Others have been given the gift of fighting, the gift of putting on war-time garbs and going to engage in the battle. But still others have been given the gift of waiting for the battle to end. Waiting to take over to tell the story of the battle. Achebe shared that the sounding of the battle is important, the fierce waging of the war too. But of all this, it’s the telling of the story that is most critical. The story as Achebe pointed out, ‘boldly takes the eagle feather.’ Stories are indeed connected to all aspects of our lives. Our being and becoming, our penetration and preservation, even our silence and survival or ability to enlighten and empower depend on the stories we tell. It is only the story that continues noted Achebe, beyond the war and the warrior. It’s is the ‘story that also saves us, so much so that without it, we are blind.’ Sustainability or the ‘continued use of program components and activities for the continued achievement of desirable program and population outcomes,’ are like stories.

Sustainability is connected to all the life cycles of research from initial conceptualization to implementation. Sustainability draws attention to the struggles, the values, even the quest for efficacy or effectiveness that binds a research team and how all these intersect to enable their intervention to ultimately remain. It is also where the collective memory of an intervention resides. Not the memories as with steps delineated in a protocol, but in the minds of all people influenced by the intervention. It informs the process through which an intervention defines itself from its beginning to the end. It raises awareness and builds consciousness of key values or adaptations that can take evidence-based interventions forward. It highlights the role of key people and resources necessary for any attempt to sustain an intervention, capturing key processes and outcomes that future researchers and implementers can rely on. Finally, sustainability helps implementer to re-imagine and reframe their own stories on what it means to last. It’s their for the telling and they have the capacity and ability to affect and inform the outcome, if only they know their power.

Of course sustainability cannot be separated from the social, ecological, historical or political forces in which evidence-based interventions are implemented. In a seminal review by Pan-African Studies Professor, Tavengwa Gwekwerere on the Anthills of the Savanah, like stories, sustainability ‘binds the past, the present and the future together, making inroads into the past to inspire the present, narrating the realities of the present to imagine the future, all while preparing the future for potential struggles and aspirations with attempts to last.’ Sustainability’s connections to the past, present and future, prepares researchers and implementers to make sense of ‘where they have been, where they are, and where they must go.’ It’s for this reason that having a plan becomes critical. By plan, I mean working with the right people to learn how to adapt and nurture aspects of an evidence-based research so that it lasts. It’s no surprise then that sustainability remains a threat to all statue quo form of research, so much so that those who seek to make this a career are actually called ambitious. But why even bother implementing any research if it never lasts? Keep sustainably in mind and have a plan while you are at it. That and keep remaining ambitious. Sustainability requires, no demands that you remain ambitious. So keep it as well.

There is a Black exodus happening in academia. It is female, oppressive, and recursive. The latest, Dena Simmons of Yale University. She left the university citing ‘racism and years of bullying.’ She didn’t feel ‘valued’ or ‘protected’ at Yale. I spent my Sunday afternoon reading brief but concise social media postings on Dena. They were mostly by Black women. Some still in academia. Some gone, and off to start their own enterprises, in spaces and places where they would feel safe and protected. There is a Black exodus happening in academia now. But it is a site of power. Black women are reclaiming, restoring, even rekindling their God given power to exit spaces and places that do not value or protect them.

But how do we bear witness to a moment that is often not recorded, not discussed, not visible, not even in mainstream media, but yet a lived experience of many black women in America? Writing, is the one place where we can retrieve, restore, recover and give voices back to the unknown and unshared invisible, experiences of all black women, those in or not in academia. It is the one place where our silence will not protect us. It is the space where no one tells us what to do. It is the place where we can create rooms for our own unique experiences. All the words I write, every phrase and every structure, is mine to do as I please. If I wanted to control the narrative, all you see and hear about me, even what my social spaces, or social interactions may look like, at home, at work, even at church, then I would have to be radically open and write from my soul. For it is in writing that we bear witness to our history, our stories, our ways of being, our lived reality, our gaze.

Bell Hooks shared in a glorious piece entitled ‘the oppositional gaze,’ the power inherent with looking that is in opposition. Our ‘gaze’ she said, has been and remains a site of resistance. But it can also be a site of power, a site that breaks silence, breaks constraints and makes us the subject rather than the object of dialogue. Yet one thing black women don’t do enough though, is value our process of looking, enough to publicly name it, she stated. Even when we have our own reality, our own history, our own lens, our imaginations, one that sees the world differently from anyone else, Hooks stated that we do not name it or even describe this experience of seeing things rather differently. Even when we create alternative lens, based on our own unique ways of contesting, resisting, revising, and interrogating the dominant ways of knowing and looking, we still do not define our realities. Yet, how we see ourselves, whether at the center or the margins of our stories, how we look at ourselves, Bell Hooks notes, is most is important.

So to is my writing, the place where I am most free to be myself, to see myself. This blog has become a space of agency for me and for every reader, both old and new. Know that every keep, every word written, is my way of looking at myself, my way of using my lived reality to know the present, and imagine the future. Every keep is my way of reclaiming, restoring and rekindling my power. So though there may be a Black exodus in academia right now, for those of us still around, do keep an oppositional gaze.

In the spirit of Black History Month, my family and I have been reading about Anna Julia Cooper, the 4th African American woman to earn a doctorate, something she accomplished in 1924. Anna Julia Cooper was as fearless as she was powerful, as sublime as she was effortless in her discussions not only on the plight of black women in general, but the need for women to attain higher education. The professor in me is always alert to women who paved the way for me to call myself a professor. Women like Anna Julia Cooper, with her profound book ‘ A Voice from the South’ which urged black women to not be mute or voiceless, but happily expectant and ready to add our voice to the experiment and experience we call America. One statement she wrote in the book that made me alert is: ‘Woman, Mother, your responsibility is one that might make angels tremble.’ This statement was eloquent then as it is perfect for me today. I look forward to the future always with zeal, knowing that the many words of Anna Julia Cooper will be my guide. Keep her in mind.

Anna Julia Cooper

One of my favorite pictures from homeschooling last year is of my daughter and her brother walking together. My daughter, the artist, describes it as walking their own way, like when we go for walks along Forest Park. I especially love the picture because I see myself in my children, walking my own path, even on this daily blog on parenting and academic productivity. It isn’t ‘or’ for me, but ‘and’. My productivity in academia is very much tied to my role as a mother. And following my path with asking and listening to good questions, make the connection sterling.

My daughter and her brother, walking on their own path.

In the past 15 years I have known my mentor Dr Collins Airhihenbuwa, he has always shared the importance of not only asking good questions but actually questioning the questions asked. To him, we all need to learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable especially when asking tough questions. I started grant writing and studying the sustainability of evidence based research, because, like a true mentee, I wanted to become comfortable asking uncomfortable good questions. Like, why, after decades of spending millions on research in resource limited settings, after decades of collecting data, even decades of collaboration with key stakeholders, do most evidence-based interventions, particularly does deemed effective never, ever last? We the researchers collect our data, publish our findings in the most prestigious journals, present our findings in top conferences, maybe even return to present it to key stakeholders and then we move on to the next problem, the next grant even, maybe on the same topic, but with another group of unsuspecting community eager for our expertise without understanding the cost.

Personally, and if there is anything that I have learnt from the pandemic, the time has come for such research to end. Of course we may never be able to solve every problem, of course we may not have the courage to ask the uncomfortable but good questions necessary, of course when we even ask them, we may fail, but I am committed to following my own path to ask them anyway. I am interested in implementing sustainable evidence based research because they are rare, because the communities I work with deserve them, the participants themselves desperately need them and because it is time we actually plan from the beginning for them. Planing for sustainable research is necessary if lasting is going to be more than just technical, more than another data collection exercise. Do I have the answer on how to implement them? The truth is, that is the beauty of following your path. When you look at the possibilities or even the opportunities we have squandered when we don’t think about sustainability, when we don’t put ourselves in the shoes of those we serve, then it should not come as a surprise why we are still in the middle of this pandemic.

I understand the work ahead. I am prepared to try and even fail on this journey. And it’s my path. Every researcher, every research, every good question asked in the service of people, especially in settings constrained with resources, should have an obligation to last. And when you know that she who ask these questions, however difficult or even different they maybe, however uncomfortable they may be perceived, never misses their way, then why not ask them. Keep following your path.

I have been thinking lately about good questions. What are they and why do we need to nurture and teach good questioning skills? By day, I am a global health researcher passionate and committed to asking questions, enduring ones focused on creating sustainable health interventions. I often begin with a grant. For to conduct research in a setting already limited with resources, access to funding is crucial. So to are questions, not just any questions, but good ones that lead to funding.

Good questions have helped to test the limits of my grant writing abilities. They pushed me to try everything, all the way, until I get the outcome I want, including the grants that allow me to address pressing public health issues. And when you find a good question to ask, questions that are enduring, it just so tremendous. And so I do feel a responsibility to ask these good questions. I have always felt and continue to feel that no one is really asking those tough but good questions. I remember after collecting my data for my dissertation on child malaria diagnosis, I told my participants, some mothers of children under 5, that my research has ended. Some asked why? It’s not like their child’s malaria has ended. They were right.

I am aware of the fact that it was rare and still rare to ask good questions overtime. Aware that though some may state they are interested in asking these questions, such as how might they last, they are never really prepared to go the distance. So I assumed two things: 1) good questions focused on lasting, focused on sustaining my global health work matters; and 2) if I ask these good questions, if I continue to hone in on what they entail, planning for it from the beginning, with the right people, learning what it takes, adapting where necessary but nurturing the questions overtime, then it will become universal. Good questions focused on lasting will become the norm.

I am hoping to train the next generation of scholars committed from the beginning to plan to ask good questions. My goal is to help them become prepared to roar if they choose to, with asking more enduring lasting questions. I call this PLAN or how people learn to adapt or nurture whatever good questions they may have. I finally wrote a research paper on it that I intend to submit this year. My goal with the paper is to a start the dialogue necessary to train a generation of scholars committed to making the necessary plan to become enduring questionologists.

The choice in the end is always up to us. We may choose to ask the typical questions that allow us to get by for the next 1-5 years, or we may go the distance and plan to become comfortable even with questioning the questions asked. When your goal is to remain, when your mission is to last, then asking all sorts of good questions becomes a necessity. We all have the power to think long and deep about how our questions can and should be good. We should all be willing to explore limits of the questions we ask for as long as the issues remain. For to be good, to hone in and polish the questions, to a gleaming finish is illuminating, exceptionally powerful to me. Keep asking good questions. Plan for them too as the world desperately needs them.

Homeschooling 2020 came to an end on Thursday/Friday. This keep is in praise of all the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncle and even friends of families that helped make it work. It’s also in praise of all children, their courage, resilience through this pandemic of a lifetime. Many may assume that because children are home that schooling should be easy. I beg to differ. We struggled, though beautifully with our homeschooling experience. There were many ups and downs and my children did their best to adapt to school now being at home. Prior to the start of the fall, I was not eager to start homeschooling knowing that I would also have work obligations occurring during this period and my anxiety levels were high. Of course as is typical of work, and with the exception of few fearless leaders, most meetings and obligations occurred during this period as if our children weren’t home. I choose not to be distracted by work, given that we were living through a pandemic. Homeschooling was more critical for me and my children.

So in praise of our survival, I went running yesterday. My typical 4 mile weekend race. It’s also my release and reflection time. As I ran, I reflected on how we made homeschooling work for us, our way. Homeschooling for us was assertive, loving, full of long sweet memories of art, nature, poetry, reading, religion, science, learning and questions, lots and lots of questions. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In the end, for homeschooling 2020, we did it our way. As 2021 approaches, as we all look forward to the return of regular schooling, homeschooling is an urgent reminder once more to keep running my race through life, my way. It’s my suggestion to whoever reads this. Life is too short to not do it your way.

It seems so simple, that people should matter with efforts to curtail a pandemic. Yet we are our own worst enemies. Case in point, an essay I read yesterday on the blog sapiens one why the CDC needs social science. Robert Hahn an anthropologist and epidemiologist who recently retired from the CDC, shared insights of how people actual interact, their behaviors, needs and even concerns, have yet to penetrate the soul of the nation’s top primary health agency. And we wonder why we are in the mess we find ourselves?

As a public health researcher, why people refuse to wear mask for example, remains one of the public health mysteries of 2020, and one that truly lacks any answer besides the fact that we still don’t keep people in mind. Robert Hahn takes this a step further and offers another explanation. The idea that sickness remains a biological concept. As a result, how even sick people react, what behaviors they engage in even while sick is often an afterthought and not a forethought. It’s no surprise then, that this pandemic continues to persist, 10 months later.

I’ll like to add one more thought to his explanation and that is people should be at the heart of every response to public health, especially during and after a pandemic. We also need to do more polylogue or confront people with diverse and sometimes conflicting points of views that require critical evaluation. These forms of engagement with people will be crucial with efforts to ensure vaccine uptake. Myself and my household are ready for the vaccine. But I do recognize that some folks may not be and so it’s our duty to keep them in mind on the journey to end this pandemic for good.

Yesterday, in yet another failed grant attempt, my proposal was described as ‘overly ambitious’. Cambridge’s dictionary describe the word ambitious as ‘having a strong desire to succeed.’ In the grant writing world, the word ambitious has negative connotations. It’s one of those dreaded words senior reviewers lash on junior grant writers to remind us to stay in our place. When all else fails, when even the grant has some merit to it, the reviewers use the word to remind you of the hierarchy inherent in the grant writing world. Bottom line, no one wants their proposal to be described as ambitious. Yet, majority of all my proposals, most of my failed ones, have been called ambitious on so many occasions. In fact I wrote so many ambitious grants that failed before landing on the grant of a life time. Ambitious questions are all I know.

Now and in the words of James, 1: 2-4, I consider it pure joy when my grant proposals are described as ambitious especially in the beginning because I know now that the testing of my abilities produces perseverance, produces a profound commitment to write more beautiful questions, questions that are truly ambitious in nature given pressing global health issues, this pandemic being a perfect example. My goal now is to truly own the word and so I thank reviewers from reminding me to keep being ambitious, keep having a strong desire to succeed. For when I am ambitious, when the work is described in the beginning as having the determination to succeed, the end makes more sense.

Ambitious questions are a necessity. Ambitious scientists are critical. I intend to keep being ambitious so as to finish my goal of research that is truly sustainable in resource limited settings. It will truly take ambitious questions and I am so prepared to keep asking them, no matter how many times I fail.

When the history of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is written, what will those of us in public health note we accomplished? How would we present the success and failures with proactively maintaining measures such as wearing masks or practicing social distance or even avoiding large crowds?Where did we go wrong with taking care of the public’s health? How did the public not understand that ending the pandemic depended on us, you and me?

These questions trouble me as our nation recorded 184,000 new cases yesterday according to NPR. With more new cases, come deaths and the winter season has not fully begun. At the present time, it remains that all our pleas to practice basic public health measures is wasted. All the valuable advice and even education presented about the virus by key experts are unknown or unheeded and therefore not utilized by the public. The next couple of months is perhaps the most difficult that the public will experience with a pandemic that shows no sign of abating, respects no authority, and inflicts more harm than good. Not to heed the public health’s simple and clear messages, like wear a mask, or practice social distance, is equivalent to stepping backwards or rounding the corner to the beginning of the pandemic. We keep rounding the corner to the start of the pandemic and frankly, I am tired. With more cases, come more deaths? Whom shall we blame? Ourselves?

The public’s health is very fragile now. Do your part to actually end the pandemic by heeding the advice from public health leaders. Let it not be known, that your loved one tested positive or even died. Ignorance to public health, whether a blessing or a curse is real. Whatever your disposition today, know the virus has its own agenda and doesn’t care about yours. The next couple of months are indeed critical and for the public’s health, it will depend on you and me.