I remember her smile like it was yesterday. She always smiled. She was tall and very beautiful. The look on her eyes was like paradise, always mesmerizing, always kind, always tender, always love. Her name was Selena and she was loved by so many. I share her story today, not to grumble, but as a reminder that research for me is people. The passion I feel for research has names and faces that I dare not forget and her story was my first experience at mental health trauma, turned domestic violence, turned suicide. We watched this in real time. We tolerated it too, with assumptions that it would go away over time. Selena’s life was cut short by someone else’s mental health issues and we are left to wonder, what more could’ve we have done.

So I write today, as a reminder that the world is truly an unkind place, people are dealing with a lot, and the familiar can be life threatening. My own awareness of being a researcher and experiencing the ramifications of what happens when evidence is not translated in real world settings is of interest to me. It may seem like we can never help everyone, I know. It may seem like research is uncaring, I know. It may also feel like we are only in it for ourselves. I know too, and agree that there are miles to go before research can truly be for the people. But we can try. I am convinced that if we do our part to ensure that evidence-based research is translated to real-world settings, then there would be no more stories like that of Selena and I would be celebrating her light, her life today and not reminiscing on all that life took from us. So it’s vital for me to write this to remind all of us that research is people and we should care for it, be vigilant and do all in our power to ensure that it remains that way. I also love and miss you Selena and may your soul continue to sleep in God’s bosom. Amen

In a little over a year, now, our life as we knew it came tumbling down. We called her Angie or Angi and to know her was to know life. I am reminded again, that death should never have the final say. Not when those alive can continue the story of a live well lived. One that became a blessing, a symbol of persistence, and collaboration laced with empathy, though the pain of loss of her physical presence lingers. Since her death, I have been writing notes to her. I wrote other things too, like grants and stories and everything that would enable the pain to lessen. Yesterday, I submitted the 4th grant in her memory.

Cervical cancer came knocking furiously at my door in the summer of 2021 and since then I have been answering the call. Two things are clear to me: No woman should die from cervical cancer. And we must eliminate it period. It helps that there are polices for elimination. The 90-70-90 strategy for example which calls for 90% of girls vaccinated, 70% of women screened and 90% of women with positive results linked to treatment. The fact that such a policy with evidence-based tools exists infuriates me. The fact that we also know what to do about cervical cancer also makes me angry. Her death could have been prevented. I get it now. It’s the reason why I keep writing anything that would make her living more memorable.

I personally bear responsibility for her death, blame too. I could have asked more questions, checked in more often and maybe, she would have disclosed this in passing. I will never know why she kept this as a secret, not just from me but her mother. I will never know why she didn’t trust the health system long enough to truly take all the symptoms she was experiencing seriously. I only have questions, many that I know I will never have answers for now that she is gone. But for tomorrow and, beyond, I am willing to begin with trust, will to begin with listening, willing to learn and hopefully willing to work with any one to lead a concrete and path-breaking strategy focused on cervical cancer elimination. I expect the struggle to come. Many have warned us of it. But I close with this, at least generations will know we struggled, we did it our way too, so no woman would die from something so preventable. I have been dreading writing anything on the one year anniversary of your passing Angi. Dreading it because I’ll rather hear you say my name or ask about the kids or just simply chat about makeup or anything else your heart desires. So these little notes are all I have with the hope that someday, someone will asked how you died and I will be quick to say, ooh but you lived. You lived.

Note on desire:

A long desire. To see and be. Another encounter. Longer than the first. Two eyes locked. Or lips talked. These notes are for you. Though dead but living. Something tried. Your cervix, a thing. Follow its form. Learn it’s lines. Then see you. It takes a long time to see. Even longer to be.

Note on Something so small:

They need to know your name. Not the way you died. Not the cervix that caused you to die. Not the pain we fail to hide. Not the tears we still shed inside. About how something so small, can kill an Angel with all its might.

Note on Seed:

I will find you again. Not like a stalk , but a seed. Death is undeserving of you. Life resembles a birds foot. Only that we chose to soar, choose to fly above the pain your cervix caused. We know pain. But we also know life. And return to you not with fury, but with force, not when your death planted this seed.

Note on She lived:

I imagine someone will ask one day, how did Angi die? I will remind them again, of how she lived. How in life, she personified all our hopes and vision. For a better recognition of what the public envisions. For their health, like their life. We will neither reject nor denounce her cervix. Not when it reminds us to be careful. Reminds us to remember the power of endless beginnings. Reminds us to bear a responsibility to something. Or one day someone will ask the same question, wanting to know too, how we died or lived.

Some many fists are clenched and coming after cervical cancer (imagery from bell hooks). Thank you to a formidable and diverse team that got me through this last year. Our story keeps unfolding in ways only grace personifies.

The first job I got right after my undergraduate degree was an internship at the World Organization’s InfoBase. It was for 3 months and I was assigned to work under Dr. Kathleen Strong. My first assignment, look through online databases for the burden of stroke globally. Then enter all the risk factors you see into the WHO Global InfoBase. It wasn’t the most high rewarding jobs, but I understood the value and did my best throughout those three months to help the group and their surveillance of stroke risk factors globally.

Nearly 16 years later, I am back to looking through online databases to make sense of risk factors for stroke. Hypertension is a dominant modifiable risk factor. So also is high salt intake and sedentary lifestyle as well as obesity. I worked with a group earlier this year to make sense of the role of salt. It seems simple that everyone should cut back on salt but yet the willingness to push this through mainstream is limited. There there are all the clinical approach to hypertension based on clinical assessments and strategies that rely heavily on resources. I don’t doubt their significance but the burden of stroke still remains high despite their existence. But really who cares and why am I reminiscing on days long gone. Well, it’s all coming full circle. Not sure what the universe is trying to do, but I’m a vessel and I love seeing what staying under his wings can do. This rise, this ride of my life is amazing. Stay tuned.

The images you have of me. Mother, researcher, doing work in far away places. All of them are true. But those that are invisible. Everything hidden, under, and in between the lines like Toni Morrison’s invisible ink, are the bones that keep me tall and erect. One day, I will leave you hoping to see just how the story unfolds. What scenery passes through my window daily or whether i truly kiss the night air. Only that it would just be the beginning of the day in which all that I am to become, everything buried deeply within me, oozes forth like an ache.

I am possible, today, tomorrow, and forever, because I know my dreams, and my dreams go on dreaming, unbroken, unfettered, unafraid. They look to rivers and mountains, parks and creeks for inspiration that some call ambitious. Then they see struggles, all sorts of strife and pain lurking by the doorway, asking if we would like to come in. We do. Falling deeply into depths we pray will not leave us powerless. Not when we know what lies within us, all that cries out to arise from these depths we find ourselves in. We do, reaching for the skies above, hoping this wasn’t a dream. Dreams are always wasted if you don’t dream again. So we do, dreaming still that what lies hidden, everything under and in between the lines, remain unbroken, unfettered, unafraid, now that we touch all that aches within us.

My presentation today went well. We need more dreamers in global health.

Ambition to me is tied to what Ngugi wa Thiongo once described as a ‘quest for relevance.’ It is a search for a liberating perspective within which to see ourselves clearly in relationship to ourselves and to the other selves in the universe. He would go on to suggest that this question depends on the choice of material and the attitude to or interrogation of that material. How we see things, even with our own eyes, is very much dependent on where we stand in relationship to it. To him, any strong desire to achieve or do something is inherently laced with a language of struggle. And this struggle starts even from the beginning.

Sustaining global health, becoming ambitious with whatever you choose to do in this field is all about taking a leap into the land of struggle. It’s that struggle that ultimately makes you begin wherever you are, do whatever you can, to become part of the generation crazy enough to think they can change the world. I am very ambitious with global health, naming it, sharing it, so that I not only see myself clearly but work with like minded people to make the global more relevant than ever, changing how we all see it too, one story at a time. And yes, it is full of struggles, full of thinking that I can really change the world with fully-funded projects that last. How I am working to mobilize people to embrace these crazy ideas with global health is at the heart of my upcoming talk on Tuesday April 26th. It’s my hope that if you join us, you may learn ways to sustain your crazy ideas with global health, even in the midst of storms.

Her story, like many, are untold. Her pain, unknown. Her cervix, unforgettable. But her death, free.

Think of the depths she took. Think of the blood she hid. Think of the control she fought. Then think of the words unspoken.

Lusting for life, she only spoke to friends. Insisting her cervix was a private affair. Her bleeding, common. Her pain, of strong purpose. With an extraordinary will to survive. She hid it all, even from her mother. Then think of the fears unnamed. See the pain unnameable.

We called her Angie. The one who held us together. Who spoke of things being alright. While she walked around quietly in pain. But underneath, she was stronger than leaves of palm trees. Brittle, but wiser than tapped wines of palms. When you taste her, you taste joy that lingers for six hours. When you feel her, you feel love that lasts from dawn to dusk.

I still hear her calling my name. Still hear her saying, Osodieme. Osodieme. Osodieme, with a smile that remains buried deeply. Tears still flow. Words remain unspoken. For pain unknown, and fears unnamed. Anger still spills over the purple embroidery clothes so soft to hold, she once made for me, now persevered like fine pearls.

Those who live good lives find peace and rest in death. Was she not good enough? Like rain falling from the sky. Was she too hard, like drops on window pane? Or was she just dark like grey skies amidst heavy rain? Nothing and no one at all was there for her cervix. Within three months of poking at her cervix. Three months of energy slowly disappearing. Our angel was gone.

It’s been eight months of hell. The pain in her mother’s eyes unknown. Her fears too unnamed. We live with nothing but storms in place of words we long to hear, Osodieme.

I am looking over the prayers she shared last Easter. Keeping them here for I so miss her and truly sad that I won’t get her prayers anymore.

Really the children are having fun. Thank God for them.Everyone of them are looking fantastic. Happy Easter to you all. (2021)

He has risen and has taken away every of our affliction away in Jesus name Amen. Have a wonderful celebration. (2020)

I have taken plenty short trips in life. But few are as unforgettable as the past 4 days in Lagos. Imagine arriving to blue skies. No soon after we arrived, even after all the chaos we encountered at the airport, I arrived to skies perfect and blue.

I entered Lagos too with clarity. Day after day, I saw myself opening up to the wonders of this place. Opening up to the young people nurturing its greatest hope. We came for them. Came to witness all they could offer for themselves and those like them. We called it PrEP4Youth. They called it life changing. And one by one I saw as young people came up with ideas of how to care for each other. Ideas for girls without hope and boys out of hope. I saw how they told stories of themselves, told stories of their peers and dreamed of ways they could all live in a land where the skies remained perfect and blue. I kept saying nothing about you without you. They kept showing nothing for them without them. For where they come from, their is no need to ignore them, no need to divide them into those that receive or complete, no need to act as if they cannot lead things for themselves. The past four days left moments of joy, from teams exceptional and finesse, from youths thinking outside the box, in red shirts, or green shirts, braided hair, or faded cuts, Godswill, or rising up again. I saw all this and more with fullness for tomorrow. Nothing about young people without young people. Nothing about people without people. This is the change they want.

If you want to decolonize anything, start by stepping out of the way. Then proceed with this mantra, ‘it is not about you.’ Nothing for people, communities, health systems, anyone, without them. Some may write papers on this, some may even have stories to tell. I saw first hand in Lagos, the need to step out of the way, so people themselves tell their own stories. This is why I firmly believe and will continue to do my best to ensure that we are all storytellers. No degree or peer-reviewed journals required. Just come as you are. I am on a mission to build platforms for storytellers in health who dare to dream.

How might we make scientific writing inclusive? How might it move beyond its style and form, beyond its static blueprint to adapt to lives that are constantly changing?

How can we speak of advancing racial and ethnic equity in science, health or medicine, if we continue to court tools and language that remain colonized?

How can we create meaningful space for those marginalized from writing, if the space only continues to sustain and nurture the status quo and not their voice?

Where are our spaces of open dialogue, spaces where we illuminate our past, brighten our future, or build strength for these present times?

Since the start of the pandemic, some of us in public health have been experiencing a kind of rapture for remembered words.

From Baldwin’s reminder that we must accept our struggle and accept it with love, to Lorde’s assertions to transform our silence into language and action.

From Wa Thiongo’s reminder to decolonize our minds, to Morrison’s eloquent Noble Prize Lecture on why language is the measure of our lives. We argue that the time for radical openness with scientific writing is now. 

If the goal is to truly include voices of people experiencing health inequities, truly encourage contributions from scholars from marginalized racial and ethnic groups who remain systematically excluded from publishing in scientific journals, then scientific journals will need to begin by experimenting with new forms and style of writing. 

I imagine we could do like Ryan Petteway suggested and use poetry for resistance, healing, and reimagination. One where even our scientific writing can become more responsive to and representative of people’s daily realities, and not an academic language that excludes or silences them.

I imagine, we could also engage in healthful narratives, leveraging arts and culture, like Shanae Burch suggested to advance health equity.

Derek Griffth and Andrea Semlow also suggested that art can be one of the few areas in our society where people can come together to share an experience even if they see they world in radically different ways.

Art may facilitate critical reflection, unlearning, relearning and perhaps most important, connecting, something public health desperately needs.

We could create more spaces for the exchange of letters, a genre, Green and Condon, argue enables deep listening as well as honest, hard, and tender dialogue necessary to the work of anti-racism.

Letters provide an opportunity for scholars often underrepresented in research to write from where they stand and for others to attend to their stories even when they seem uncomfortable.

We could also do as bell hooks once suggested in her book, teaching critical thinking, and use imagination to illuminate spaces not covered by data, facts and proven information.

Imagination can help us create and sustain an engaged audience, particularly with scholars from marginalized racial and ethnic groups who have been systematically excluded from publishing in scientific journals.

Racism are real conditions and very present in the way we write as scientist. We cannot be asked to draw a map, then lead the way down a path that leads to ending the many forms of racism, if the path we use belong to the masters. We may temporarily go along the journey with you, but we do so knowing that it will never lead to genuine change.

I maybe daring to speak to the oppressed and oppressor in the same voice, but language is now a measure of my life as a public health researcher and a profound site of resistance, one I intend to use with anyone interested to serve and support communities underrepresented in research.

If we are to truly illuminate and transform the present, or brighten the future, then we need an unfettered imagination of what can be. We decolonize scientific writing when we use tools that are different, tools we know will work for our beloved communities, work also to advance racial and ethnic equity in health, or simply spread a burst of light. 

So allow me to introduce a new space within public health dedicated to hearing from you the public, on ways we can center back the public in public health, using tools that make sense to you, tools you feel will help us critically reflect, unlearn, relearn, and ultimately connect with you. Join us and simply come as you are to bear witness and use language and art as the measure of our lives and health. https://light4ph.org

As rough as the grains of garri.

As smooth as the mold of eba.

This collection of lists to keep.

A collection of cares so deep.

Unclear what I’m doing.

But doing so with clarity.

Honest, honesty.

Of life as a mother.

Life as a health researcher too.

All in a time of a pandemic.

Where our ways do not connect.

Our writings do not fulfill.

What hearts and souls need.

So I continue to continue.

Radically open to new forms of brewing.

All still as rough as grains of garri.

But slowly turning to be as smooth as the mold of eba.

Lol. This is my attempt at poetry writing. I have been expanding my writing with poetry, trying to fuse my life as a mother, as a researcher using words that connect. I long to break free from the prison science writing has kept me in for too long. I’m in the mood for my writing to move beyond the space we call science. To move beyond the limits of the journals in our field. To reach people, especially those that look like me. Those in search of ways to find healing. I’m in the spirit to reach you and teach you. That our healing is a collective experience. Ours is a journey we can begin together, begin too from a place of love, whether different or the same. I’ll rather you stay just as you are. Stay different if it pleases your soul. I have no answer. Nothing I have been taught will free us from the prison we find ourselves. So I’m in the mood of going along the journey together with you. Watching as you discover all that is in you. All that is in me too. Listening and learning because we choose this path. Holding our hands together through the struggles and triumphs. I expect the struggles and I hope you prepare for them too. But most of all I am prepared to love us and I choose this place as our starting point. Plus the light that came to Lucille. And we are not done yet. We will continue to continue. Where we have been, all our lives is where we are going. With this collection of cares, this collection for us we begin to keep with love.

My teacher through poetry is the sterling Lucille Clifton.

With Black History Month coming up, I will try my best to perfect write poems, not as luxury, but to pay homage to many beautiful, black, gifted writers, that have gone to their heavenly rest. These they all did theirs best, I am entirely grateful that their words remain for all of us to keep. The next month is dedicated to keep words from them for me, for you.

I write slowly. Painstakingly slow. I have been letting the words come. They come really slow. It may seem like I can’t get to the end. I have been told to set deadlines. I do. All the time I have deadlines with my other style of writing. I always meet the ones with the grants I commit to writing. Deadlines aren’t a problem. But for this other style of my writing, the nonfiction side that seeks to challenge the status quo, that writing side is pretty slow. I think it’s because non fiction or even fiction writers don’t often prescribe solutions. We do that a lot in academic/scientific writing. We have a solution for $25k or $10million and if we are good at this grant writing style, you will probably give us that money. And chances are nothing we prescribe will actually change anything. It’s the sad but real truth about academic writing. We are in the business of offering solutions. Impossible and often unsustainable ones. Granted it may work for 705 or even 30 people we follow for 6 months or 12 months after our study ends. But visit those people 4 years later, chances are nothing has changed. And we are probably off to the next grant. That side of writing in my opinion is part of a colonial legacy that has dominated scientific writing for to long. It also has to change.

Recently, a top journal sent out an email asking people to respond to their themed paper on ways to advance racial and ethnic equity in science and health. They especially requested for racial and ethnic groups marginalized or often excluded from publishing to send in their papers. I chuckled. Not only have you excluded these groups from publishing, now you want them to end racism too. The ones you intentionally excluded? Are they god? Do people only see racial and ethnic groups in science as gods?

We are only just coming to terms with the knowledge that finally, racism can be publicly declared as a public health crisis. It was just acknowledged last year, in 2021. Something we have known for too long. And now, one year later, we are supposed to have interventions that end racism, metrics to measure progress, even ways to advance workforce diversity that advances racial and ethnic equity in health. Surely even their gods must be crazy. If you have systematically excluded voices of people and scholars experiencing inequities, if you have not allowed them to be lead authors or even accepted any paper they wrote, how then can you expect them to do the impossible as if they were gods. This is my musing for today, something I wrote as a verse below. Ooh and racial and ethnic minorities in academia cannot end racism we never started. Enjoy below.

Surely we can write, about racism, about its many forms, about the structures that perpetuate racism, about policies and practices too that are racist.

Surely we can write about how racism leads to segregation, leads to violence and incarceration, leads to inequitable access to health, leads to poor quality care, leads to color blindness, leads to systemic bias, and ultimately fails the people it serves. We can do all that with your call for papers. Or we could try truth-telling.

How might the same people, voices unheard of, voices ignored, voices suppressed, or voices excluded, end something they never started? The pernicious effects of racism are not for ignored or excluded voices to address, let alone remedy. All of that is your problem, not ours.

We know the effects of racism. We live it too. No calls for papers will end what we know about it. No selection of papers, peer-reviewed, commitment to anti-racism, will change this one fundamental fact, we are at a crossroads.

The tools we use with writing as we do scientifically are colonial.

Racism has seriously disturbed scientific writing for too long.

We will not survive using your colonial tools. This is after all the oppressors language. The master’s tool. We know this also.

But those of us committed to change will survive.

We will survive.

Not in methods, results or discussions. Not in margin of errors or regression models. Not in p-values or any rigorous statistical analysis.

We will change course and move on. We will drop what we can, forms and styles of writing we can, and continue our journey, our way.

This is our story too. We will write ourselves and the people we serve into history. Our way. With or without you. We don’t need representatives. We don’t even need papers. We will write our stories, write our histories, write our fears, write new frontiers, write until we become clear. Write until we change injustices. Our way.

We have tried to learn your ways. Tried to push back on the misrepresentation that so often defines the people we serve.

Today isn’t our morning.

We have been ready to take on this challenge. Ready to make concessions where we can. Public health critical race praxis is one fine example. Not even your exclusions have undermined what we know.

That even those presumed to have no voice, have voice. Those presumed to have no power, have that too.

And we are doing what is expected of us. Our way.

We know something better than your ways exist. We know the possibilities of light. We are also committed to proclaim like the universe once did. Let there be light.