It was Lorraine Hansberry that said once to a friend that she wished to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful and that which to love. Therefore since she has known all of these things, she has found them to be reason enough and so she wished to live. As I reflect on these words, I too realize that I wish to live, not only for that which is good, that which is beautiful and that wish is love. I want all of that, but to them I also add that I wish to live to know that which is joy. I see it in my baby’s eye every times our eyes connect. More than love alone, there is unbridled joy when 2 minds connect, 2 souls connect. Slowly, every word spoken and unspoken are our way of knowing, an extension of myself beyond myself, as told by the joy we both have for each other. I wish to live to bask in this joy forever, to sustain each other, and continue to remain with each other long after our space on earth. Yesterday, we remembered my father who passed away 12 years ago on January 23rd. Here was a man for whom his joy for me had no limit. I saw it always in his eyes and in the ways he spoke and uplifted me. He would tell me the world was mine for the taking, take it and go as far as you can. I miss him terribly. I see him still this time through my children. Their eyes share the joy my father gave to me as a little girl and because of them, i wish to live to know this joy always. Joy to me, along side, all that is good, all that is beautiful and all that is love are reasons enough to live. And like Lorraine, I wish to live.

As an undergraduate and graduate student at Penn State (loved that school too much), I received 2 Bunton Waller scholarship and fellowship. The Bunton Waller scholars program were named in honor of Mildred Settle Bunton (1932), recognized as the first African American woman to graduate from Penn State, and Calvin Hoffman Waller (1904), believed to be Penn State’s first African American graduate. The scholarship is given to students who enhance the broad and diverse student population at Penn State. The Bunton-Waller Program attracted students from various backgrounds who have demonstrated academic potential and are eligible to attend Penn State.

Most of my friends through college and in life were Bunton Waller scholars. Imagine all of us living in the same dorm our freshman year in college. That was our experience in a predominantly white institution. The program allowed us to see ourselves and not get lost in the shuffle of what it means to be a racial and ethic minority. And we all thrived. When I look through the profiles of us, those I keep in touch with and I those I don’t, majority have doctoral degrees. It gives me chills to see the amount of doctors that came out of the program. One of my close friends from the program is an anchor woman at CBS Philly. Another group run Fortune 500 companies as top leaders, while some simply own their business. Such is the beauty of university programs that begin with diversity in mind. Not just in words but truly with efforts to train the next generation of scholars. I will be speaking about my experience as a diverse scholar next week for National Institutes of Health and if you can, do register to join us here. https://nih.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_eQ-zp0WMRnC2yQRRN658aQ

I am all about light. All about celebrating those who build and sustain it. Those unafraid to give a little light, to make their light shine too. Those prepared to do their part to dispel darkness, to become a voice for the voiceless, to love as love does, choosing love or fighting for justice like hell. I am all about those working to touch everyone with light. Those working to be like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We spend a lot of time praising people that are dead that we forget to celebrate all of us still alive. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally for celebrating Dr. Martin King Jr, for honoring his life’s work and legacy. I would also love to celebrate those alive working in his footsteps. We can do both.

To me, celebrating those doing his work today, neutralizes all those who would rather quote his words and not take a mile in his footsteps. I’ll rather we uplift those that are doing what is powerful, creative, within themselves and their communities to ensure justice for all in a non-threatening way. Our times on earth are limited. A friend reminded me of this recently in her musings for her blog. Why not then spend time honoring those reaching for the power within themselves and the work they choose to do, to be like Dr. King. It’s from this reservoir of goodwill for today’s heros that my daughter thought to write about a local hero in Saint Louis. Someone with a strong love ethic for everyone that calls this place home. She told me she wanted to focus on public health and she was inspired by a woman that looked like her, styled her hair like her, wore clothes like her and seemed to be speaking up all the time about ways to end the pandemic. She was inspired by the light in Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis.

The first draft of the book my daughter made.

My daughter wanted to write about her and why she thought she was walking in the footsteps of Dr. King. So we did. She did her own research. Wrote about why Mati was a public health warrior and what it takes to become a warrior. She wrote, illustrated and published her book for the project. I was floored. Not only is Mati doing the impossible however it may seem to end the pandemic in Saint Louis, that people as young as my daughter are watching and noting too how she embraces the spirit of Dr. King made me proud. We should all be like children. Sometimes it would seem as if they are truly the eyes of God for all of us here on earth. By Mati’s own actions and words and as seen from the lens of a child, she is a hero worth celebrating today. Something I imagine Dr. King Jr. would be elated that somewhere, somehow, there are people like Mati doing their part to follow a dream, however impossible it may seem. This is the legacy of Dr. King worth spreading. I am inspired.

Final draft.

Have you ever wondered what Dr. King do today if he was alive? I imagine he would be thankful for the outpouring of love, for his purpose, for his good will, for his justice. I also imagine that he would be in awe with how everyone, old and young, are doing their part to remind everyone how the arc of moral universe is long, but bends always towards justice. I imagine though that he would second bell hooks when she too suggested that the heart of justice is truth-telling. Then he would look around and wonder who we are all fooling? Ourselves? Certainly not him?

Are we our brothers or sisters keeper? Do we love unconditionally, live and practice justice too, unconditionally? Certainly not. The speeches are all great. The never ending quotations too. But for me, I”ll rather we practice truth-telling, shaming the devil and speaking the multiple truths we ought to be telling about our world today. We are not all okay when some would deliberately choose to not vaccinate themselves. When some even have the ability to choose while others in places far and poor will give anything to have the same choices, to have vaccines. Today we celebrate the man, but I imagine he would want for us to live and practice truth-telling. We owe it to his legacy.

Last summer at MLK park in DC.

In killing rage, bell hooks talked about the need to heal our wounds. Not to be misconstrued with moments where we survive with grace, elegance, or beauty, but rather the wounds that are often hidden or fundamentally traumatic. Living and coping with the ongoing pandemic is fundamentally traumatic and we are all not okay. I have always known this. Tried to move past it too. There is so much as stake and stopping to hold myself longer was never really an option when so many people are relying on you to be strong. Relying on you to be okay. But yesterday, in the middle of watching snow fall and learning about how trees withstand freezing rain, I realized that I have been holding on to a collective wound for too long.

It may seem trivial, but there was a time, I was always on the go, traveling from one country to another in the name of Global Health Research. Research for me was never to be done in the US. So I travelled whereever and whenever work called. I have not travelled for work in 2 years. The last time I did was to South Africa in January 2020. I call myself a global health researcher. I describe myself too as one who learns about global health in person, connecting and weaving stories about our field with people themselves whose stories I am privileged to tell. Such an approach focuses more on the dynamics of the story listener, which is as equally important as, if not more important, that those who tell the stories. I have not listened to stories in person in 2 years. I have not seen people as I normally would, to listen and learn from them in 2 years.

I have also stayed in the shadows with the pandemic. Not spoken eloquently like others or even written eloquently in academic papers about it. Honestly, I am exhausted with the way research is framed in academia. I am tired too with who gets to tell the story for others and who doesn’t. I am also longing for new ways to listen to stories and tell the stories I hear in ways that do not silence or ignore people. It wouldn’t and shouldn’t be based on impact factors within journals. It should be people factors, everything that allows us to connect first as humans and not experts or others. I want to be counted among the people that break this cycle for good.

So many things have inspired this insight within. Becoming a mother during the pandemic, while mothering 3 others, and being there for a frontline spouse may have played a role. Telling diverse stories matters, that doesn’t silence but names the woundedness within our field is so powerful too. But honestly, as we all start gearing for a post-pandemic phase, the one thing I long for is knowledge production uplift with my work. Similar to what bell hooks described as racial uplift. If I wasn’t listening and telling stories pre-pandemic, in ways that make sense to the people I work with, now and post this pandemic, I intend to retain the ideals of the people I serve.

I want my work to focus more on how we see ourselves. To enter spaces and create stories that break so many diligences. To also reclaim spaces where our lives and our stories are heard as loud as we want is also an urgent desire. One where we cannot resort to collective failure anymore. If academia has ushered in learned helplessness as with the way we write, or for whom we write, then the time for change is now, if we really want to attend to the needs of the people we serve. I don’t know what this may look like, but I am working on it and in due time, I look forward to sharing ways that I plan to heal from the trauma inflicted upon all of us that would rather listen and be in the service of others and not institutions or programs shaped by white supremacy. I know that when we all start to address our collective suffering, we fill find ways to health and recover that can be sustained long after this pandemic end. It’s now my life’s work, openly healing wounds from this pandemic.

We woke up this morning to snow. A winter storm has finally arrived to Saint Louis and all I want to do is sleep the day away. My kids of course are elated. They want to go outside. They want to build snowman and play snow angels. And I simply want hot tea with some blueberry scones. To indulge them, we watched from our window, snow falling from the sky. I looked and saw most of our trees covered in snow. My mind kept wandering out loud, how do trees survive the stress of freezing temperatures. I did a little reading and discovered that when trees are exposed to freezing temperatures, all aspects of their being are exposed to ice.

Some trees adapt by either escaping, avoiding, or tolerating extreme cold temperatures. With escaping, trees shed their leaves in the Fall and into winter periods. No wonder, most trees are leafless during winter. It’s as if they take the time to shed dead lifeless weight during the fall. With avoidance, trees undergo a deep supercooling process, whereby the water within cells remain in liquid phase even at sub-zero temperatures. So irrespective of how low or sub freezing temperatures may get, water within trees remain in unfrozen condition. So there maybe chaos all around, super cold ones too, but internally, the key things that make you whole remain intact, oblivious to the chaos. Finally some trees simply tolerate the freezing temperatures. They do so via a host of biochemical adaptations that enable them to loose their cellular water to extra cellular ice, which in turn, allows the trees to tolerate freezing temperatures and the process of ice in their tissues. In some cases the cells of these trees undergo dehydration as they tolerate the stresses associated with the presence of ice in its tissues.

I tried to imagine what I would do if I were a tree, and honesty I would simply escape. Of course, staying intact or tolerating life’s chaotic moments seems reasonable, but I still hate to freeze and escaping makes more manageable sense to me. So I’ll escape. Anything to shed dead weight will do. We have been in a season of escaping since the pandemic began, that it only makes sense to live like trees in the middle of a snowstorm. Words are not living, cannot breathe or walk, but can allow us to escape all the moments we find ourselves freezing. I am using words to escape in ways trees escape in preparation for freezing stress. Read below.

We woke up to an escape.

We could either avoid or tolerate.

Our trees were covered with snow.

Tall ones, and small ones in an icy bloom.

To see trees covered in ice.

To see branches exposed to freezing stress.

Unreasonable episodes of frost.

Made me stop to ponder, how do trees survive freezing?

Survive being covered in ice.

Survive unimaginable freezing stress.

Survive even as it snows.

I remember leaves shedding in the fall.

By winter, most trees were leafless.

Could it be to first survive, you must shed,

All things lifeless and small

All things soundless that fall

All things needless that stall

All things restless that bawl

All things aimless that sprawl

All things helpless that gall

All things useless you haul

These things are worthless in snowfall.

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.

Dr. Maya Angelou is on the quarter. The first black woman to be featured. That she continues to live beyond her life is my keep for today. May we all find ways to outlive our lives. Ways that allow us and our legacy to shine, long after we are gone. I imagine this is what being in your season may entail. I imagine, it would allow you to nurture all that matters to you and if that lives behind dividends, then so be it. That this poet, writer, activist, performer, Professor continues to influence all of us even in death is astounding to me. That is the power of a life worth living. I am learning that every day.

I love thank you cards. I love to read them. Love to see them. Love the humanity inherent in them. I especially love when they come from strangers. My husband gets them all the time. He knows how much I love to see them too. This time, the stranger was more than gracious, so much so that she bought a mug so he never forgets her. I love her for it. Frontline workers are exhausted. The pandemic is unending and we are all tired. To see him sacrifice even his own health to care for others, always makes my thankful for him. To see the grace from the people he helped makes it all worth it. I may not be at the clinic everyday or even at the hospital but every good surgery is felt at home. Bad ones too are felt. But thankful ones hold a special place in our heart. Thank you to all those who take the time to thank frontline workers still. Your grace and thanks is so appreciated.

Isioma,

You come gliding through this Saint Louis blues, on a cold Sunday morning, frigid and clear.

You come walking through icy paths patiently gliding through forests deep as your walk fearlessly to the unknown.

You come tested by fire like gold and silver and all precious jewel formed by fire.

You come leaning not on your own understanding but listening to the voice in the desert.

You come on the shoulders of ancestors, unbroken, unknown, but impossible to ignore.

You come with birds flying from as far as Onicha, with tidings that will frame you, guide you as you follow the bird within.

You come with the gallop of horses, the jolt of chariots, with power, fierce and restless.

You come with words like wisdom, deep and like oceans and fresh like flowing streams.

You come not on your own, but with divine favor as pleasing as rain.

You come with grace as numberless as grains of sand, as fruitful as fields of grapes.

You come with these words in writing. Time is coming quickly and what you will be will come true.

You come knowing too that it may seem slow on coming. Yet you will wait for it, as it will certainly take place and not be delayed.

You come filled with awe and full of praise for what he will do.

Finally you come, despite everything, you come with the brightness of lighting, with a gleam strong enough to make the sun and moon stand still.

I saw this art by Tomi Anttila and I was moved to write the piece above. In 2022, I intend to keep coming back to light despite everything dark/cold around.