You are draped in all colors of the sun. All the shades of blue skies. All the greens of leafy trees. You who loves a life that cannot be denied. We named you after God so you never forget your name, never forget that you can own beautiful heavens, powerful earth and brilliant stars. You are also more than you seem. You name is God after all. Nothing can prison your mind. You who are free like air. A child of dreams. I pray you keep bursting open doors that amaze us all. We love you Olisa. Happy 6th Birthday, Olisa.
The idea of lasting is like electricity. The switch turns on, and I am fully charged. My mind becomes a tunnel threatening to force me to burrow deeply. Eyes are bright, like the sharpest blue of spring sun. Head focused as if on a edge of a cliff. As if waiting to meet another head unbowed. Mother bear turned research lion, I begin to work day and night until the ideas in my head on how to last take shape. They haunt me on days I dream of becoming. A bird and her nest, I take pieces of information, stick by stick, about which ideas to follow or not follow, for proper definition of what it means to last. I will not stop until the last stick is placed.
Sustainment is beyond wishful goals these days. It cannot be the music I heard yesterday. The type that lingers on what to do. Not the why and how to truly do it. Failure has tightened my heart with a band of doubt that only success or more failure may unravel. So I put more oil in my lamp, sip a cool glass of mango juice, and go back to work. These days I am mostly waiting, for when Spring will come and whether flowers will sprout or whither. We spent last fall planting seeds that I pray flourish this Spring. The dreams are as wild as a bed of wild flowers. This idea of lasting may seem trivial to some, seem unlikely to some, seem unbelievable to many, but then it’s me and if my dreams are not bigger than me, then I’m not yet dreaming. Spring has my heart in a knot, only time will loosen it, ideas may loosen it, or failure may keep it tangled and back to the dull hull of the previous year’s ache. Either way, I’ll wait for Spring.
There are stories within stories within stories and in stories. That was how the play began. Then a group of students at Saint Joseph’s academy began to take us down a path where all stories begin and end and begin again and end, masterfully weaving all of it together to illustrate the joy of storytelling. I was mesmerized. I had never heard of a play and when I was invited to attend a play on storytelling, I was hooked. The girls were brilliant. I am still in a sort of daze about the audacity of stories. If only we truly understand how they can hold all of us together. Keep stories.
As days become week, and weeks, month, and months year, the angering for your life lingers. As days become week, and weeks, months and months year, memories of you, and echoes of Osodieme, lingers still. Days will be weeks and weeks will be months and months will be years, yet what will become of all this anger, the memories, the echoes of you that continue to draw air on their own, as if life has barely moved, as if death nourishes us still. Your cervix may have won this time, but we are up fighting as nothing else matters.
What’s so nice about our home in the evening is that everybody is there. Dad in his blue scrubs, sitting on a chair. A child on every chair and grandma too. Rice on the table with fried plantains and fish stew. All of us, smiling, as we eat, hoping the night lingers as we sit, hoping we stay awhile like this, until at least the last plantain is set free, until hearts too are at peace.
I have been re-reading Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks. It’s simplicity is stunning. I love everything about this book, Eunice in the evening being one of my favorite as it reminds me of my own home too these days. Dinners together are a treat, one we cherish on days when Dad happens to be home. It inspired my thoughts above. Keep evenings with your family.
A womb tells the beginning of your story. Life forgets it’s continuity. Yet, if your stories, instead of theirs, your life, instead of their own. All your gains, instead of defeat. Your pain too, instead of deceit. If your lillies bloomed in any way. Your roses only registered thorns. Your days are as days. Your nights too, like nights.
If only you spoke of all the ways the rain fell on your head. A clear view of your flood. Those that deflated or those that manifested into all the sum of you. If you ever disappeared, even if for a minute, in your thoughts or in reality, all the moments, distant or near, that are simultaneous with your years. If there were no colors in your life, no dash of pink in Spring, or yellow in the summer, if only black and blue, then the telling of that will do. If there were hours unaccounted for. Labor unpaid. Tears unknown, joy undiscovered, desires unfulfilled, even delight unspeakable, only insight may salvage all the residue that remains.
So then tell all the arcs you know. Those that bent all the way to the ground, those that lost the ground or those that flapped up to foreground. Tell all the moments flowers made you smile. Dahlia’s or daffodils will do. Remember the rain, the depths of the fall or floods. Remember too ending hours of your existence, the earth beneath your feet, ideas that persisted, or encounters that made you rise, all before your sun sets.
When the hours of your existence have been accounted for, what will remain? I woke with this need to ask myself this question. Who will tell my story for me, just the way I would want it to be told? We die, that may be the meaning of our lives, said Toni Morrison. But we do language and that maybe the measure of our lives. So when your time is up, how would your life be measured? With the things you did and as told by those behind, or with your own words and as told by you.
I want my words to do the talking. I want it to talk back even when I’m gone. I want it to speak of all the ways I lived, the flowers I kissed, or the storms that persisted. Either way, our memories are all we have and we can keep them now, even as we breathe.
So to those wondering whether it’s worth keeping, these moments of our living, know that your stories are worth it. Keep it.
Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? This question has always haunted my spirit. It’s from Toni Cade Bambara’s novel, The Salteaters. It is also apt for today. That and what does being well mean for the public’s health, from a social justice lens, radical wellness too and not from experts alone, or those who have credentials, but from you the general public and with your fiction or nonfiction?
Who are your go to references for being radically well and how do you even begin to define wellness for yourself? Of course it led me down a rabbit hole, one where I am now obsessed with how people, those in fiction and non fiction, those with expertise and none, define what they mean by wellness.
I have been struck by the myriad of ways people define wellness, especially those focused on people of color. It matters to me these days that for the public, we define what wellness means, not just from what the dominant literature may tell us, but from everyday people who continue to struggle with answering the question: ‘Are you sure, sweetheart, you want to be well.’ So, from what I gathered from the Bettina Love’s profound book ‘We want to do more than survive’ wellness is:
A type of freedom that comes when you let go of your fears and move your anger into a space of healing.
Wisdom and being well is hard work.
Part of social justice work.
An inner life that refuses to be treated less than human.
Finding the roots of your own Black Joy, Black love, and humanity.
Choosing to see ourselves beyond illness or disease.
Having an inner self that can be quiet and enjoy life.
Recognizing the pain of our ancestors knowing the beauty and resilience of that pain lives on in us.
Knowing who you are regardless of what is thrown at you.
Different for different people.
Healing that is unrecognizable to White people and different from them.
Being your best self while fighting injustice.
Fighting racism with life, grace, compassion.
Having mental space and freedom to dream, give hell, and retreat to one’s community of love for support, fulfillment, and nourishment.
Bringing your full self.
Joining others in the fight for humanity and antiracism in love and solidarity.
Confronting internalized White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Isamophobia, fat phobia, classism, ableism, and the rage that comes as a result of these hateful ideas.
Keep doing more than surviving with these radical wellness definitions in mind.
I spent 2 hours today learning, absorbing, and exchanging wellness, healing from what it means to be black and woman in academia. Many of us have been battered. The weights of all we carry chokes and continues to choke. But the power of our narrative, the gifts we offer and the knowledge we provide, our very essence which Toni Morrison once’s described as the ‘rim of the world,’ all of the the pieces of us, are valued, visible, no longer on tiptoes but standing tall and erect because we choose to transform our silence to action. The meeting was for a future podcast with Health Promotion and Practice. I was open about my experience and time as a public health researcher. Something that happened because of this blog.
Early on in the pandemic, I re-read Audre Lorde’s transformation of silence into language and action. In fact, it was my first attempt at facing myself as a black woman in academia. There have been many casualties along the way when we think of the black woman’s experience within a system we were never meant to survive in. There have been few warriors too.
I wanted to be one of them. So that meant I needed to confront the words that I did not yet have.
I knew there were things I needed to say. I knew I had swallowed so many things that even choked me in silence. So I choose to face my fears. I started my blog, as well as writing letters as we published in the journal, to acknowledge that I too, I am a Black woman, a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, myself, doing the necessary work of transforming my silence into action.
I hoped that through the blog and letter, other women like me would face their fears. These words from Ms. Lorde were the torch light for me: this idea, ‘that you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent.’ And to survive, each of us needs to learn first that we were never meant to survive. I channeled that knowledge into strength, and created a space where I have been chronicling all the ways I survive and continue to survive within a system I was never meant to survive.
So the fact that we are here, and we have this blog and now letter as a paper, even the podcast was our attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, knowing too for so many women that look like us, there are so many silences that need to be broken. Keep breaking them. You can download the paper below or read here: Dear Health Promotion Scholar
This is my year of no. I’m loving it already. I have been asked to add another trip to my already packed work schedule in the middle of raising four young children who are school-aged. The answer is no.
I was also asked to do a favor for some in need where the need was more like a bandaid and not the solution they need. I said no.
I was asked, do I want more on my plate, more work, more demands, more on a plate that is literally overflowing. The answer my friend was no.
I have never said this much no and it’s just the beginning of the year. It feels like the thing I never knew I had in my power to do. Uncharted territories comes to mind, like riding a horse alone through fields littered with never ending demands.
Because truly deep down, I am a people pleaser. I want everyone around me to be happy and content and see me as a good guy willing to do what it would take so everyone is happy with me. This year, to literally hell with that.
If you are not happy with me, the doors are wide open. I am coming with a force and a legion that is unstoppable.
If all I have being doing the last couple of years was gathering storm, we have reached our peak. Watch me explode now that I know how to say no.
‘What you see is what you are and what you will become.’ Ben Okri said it best in his book ‘Astonishing the Gods.’ These days, what I am seeing is beyond me. They are truly wonderful things. Things that make one’s heart full. My heart is indeed full. I tried to dwell on it over the weekend. I’m still trying. Words fail me but know that I am grateful. January is cervical cancer awareness month and I get to launch a project that is near and dear to my heart in Nigeria tomorrow. I saw the project immediately cervical cancer came knocking at my door. In fact, I wrote the first version and submitted it before I knew how deep it would bury itself in our home. It buried itself and we are finally making sense of the journey ahead. Which is why I am all for those prepared to go on the journey. This isn’t a favor. Lord knows anyone around me isn’t doing me a favor. Know you came into my life. In situations where it is the reverse, know that my addition to your life is always for good. So whatever you see is me, is what we shall become. I will continue the journey with or without you. I know who started it and I know he will lead me all the way. Keep what you see!