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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Langston Hughes has a poem of how a seed at the right time, produces flower, which goes on to become more than the seed ever imagined. Imagine if the path out of the pandemic was like a seed. Imagine how we will blossom when we become flowers. All because we took the time to first plant the seed. For people’s health, with this pandemic, we should be like seeds planted and watered by people (and not solely experts) who tell us which way to go.
Where there are no attention to the public, the path out of the pandemic is hopeless.
We have being fighting this virus for close to 2 years next year. It keeps winning. My opinion, physicians are to blame.
No, I do not hate physicians. I am married to one. We started to have a debate about this during Thanksgiving and let’s just say the physicians in the house proved my point.
My opinion again, the absence of public health people, not to be equated as presence of medically trained people only, are to blame.
As someone who calls themselves a public health expert, our absence in this pandemic is part of the problem. We are no where to be found. The physicians have taken up all the oxygen they can and will continue to use it while the path out of the pandemic remains hopeless.
Do you know who really vaccinated people, with small pox vaccination for example? You guessed it, not only physicians but community health workers.
Ooh, what about polio vaccines in many parts of the world, right again, community health workers were there too. Yet these same community health workers have no spokesperson at your nightly news forum, speaking precisely and with clarity about how they work to address a community’s health, people’s health, the public’s health. Even community health is nowhere to be found and behavior does not occur in a vacuum or in interactions with doctors and patients alone. They seldom do, and focusing on them alone is why the path out of this pandemic will remain hopeless.
The fact that we keep hearing only how great the vaccine adds to the problem. It is great, one of the best vaccines ever made. But how about hearing how great masks are? They are excellent, and an excellent protection for others and oneself with the virus. Even research show that face masks significantly reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection compared to social distancing. We find a very low risk of infection when everyone wears a face mask, even if it doesn’t fit perfectly on the face. Imagine that, you don’t want a COVID-19, wear a mask.
And don’t let me get started with at home or self-testing. I am just curious who in the right mind told the US government that asking your insurance company to reimburse the Binax kit you bought from Sams club for $14 will motivate you to want to test? Do you ask your insurance company to reimburse you for the pregnancy kit you both for your self, or even the blood pressure measuring devise you use at home?
Common sense is not even being used anyone and yes I blame it on the absence of public health experts. In fact it drove me to want to explore what went wrong with our field and why are we now where to be found. Truth is public health as a field, has been no where for a long time when all we do is speak to ourselves at conferences and publish papers in our journals for ourselves only. No member of the public talks to each other with introductions, methods, results and discussion. No one. We have also been no where when even the journal we publish all our work in are not even open access or accessible to the public we serve. And we have been no where when all we do is serve our resumes and impact factors and not center even the public in public health.
The time has come for change and changing how we speak to the public is key. Using words, creatively, for me is like air, true necessity for reaching the public today. With public health, I’ll rather use words to reach you, than teach you about grey skies you see with your eyes. Grey skies like the racist bans on African countries from flying to the US and other European countries. Truth is everything will always be nothing for people and places that treat us like the heart of darkness. So don’t waste time searching for water as if they don’t see Africa like a desert. Until the vaccine arrives, wear a mask. This is a public health message that is easy and should be shared widely. And for people’s health, we should be wide open and let people tell us which way to go.