Fiction has the power to help us discover new things. Like the unexpected turns life can take if we follow a path not often taken. Or the extent to which stories can take us to new places and new spaces all with the power of words combined in a graceful manner. What if non-fiction did the same? What if non-fiction took us down a path not often taken. An unexpected path full of discovery and instructive of new routes to take. A good non-fiction, similar to a good fiction can tell the story it wants to tell all on its own. I’m guessing that’s the power of storytelling in the end, whether we use our imaginations or not, to tell stories with facts or fictions. All of it in the end must be accountable to you the reader with lessons or instructions that compel you to do something, remember something. All of this is important when you take the story into account.

In 2007, my doctoral advisor wrote a paper entitled ‘on being comfortable with being uncomfortable; centering an Africanist vision as a gateway for global health.’ In the paper, he had an image of a child neither romanticized nor diseased, representations that are typically the norm in discussions in anything concerning Africa.

Photo by Olusegun Fayemi

The paper goes on to discuss the misrepresentation of African identity and how part of that framing lies with researchers who would rather interpret Africa as disease-ridden and crisis plagued rather than humanity that populated the region. It was for this reason that the paper asked the question ‘can you define who you are without referencing what you do?’ Most researchers are very comfortable speaking about their identity based on their profession and incapable of defining who they are outside what they do. The paper goes on to discuss how African identity should be at the center to research on African health and development. Also how we need to deconstruct conventional assumptions and theories used to frame public health and solutions for Africans. I share all this to say that this paper helped me define the gate through which I enter research. I value research where knowledge production, including the acquisition and distribution of it is affirmed by those who own the knowledge, including those traditionally underrepresented in research.

This paper also remains one of my favorite papers and a source for daily inspiration whenever I need the assurance that I am fulfilling my destiny in academia. See the past three months have been brutal. Not only did I work as a homeschool teacher as as mother to 4 children under 8 years of age, I took on the Herculean task of submitting 2 NIH grant proposals back to back with me as a lead. I have been here before. The work isn’t a problem for me. If you know my history with NIH grants, then you would know that I am most comfortable being uncomfortable with submitting 2 grants at the same time. The reason I went to my advisor’s article today after submitting the second one (the first one was submitted last week) was because I needed to read these words to myself and I’m paraphrasing “continue to propel yourself to new levels possibilities are endless.’ My advisor pushed the need to not conduct research from a deficit model, but from one where people are represented just as they are. Not diseases or romanticized beings, but people with possibilities that are endless. The two grants that I submitted are a reflection of these possibilities. Of course lord only knows the outcome, but I am satisfied with myself and my never ending quest for possibilities that remain endless. Keep this for yourself.

Even when words won’t make any sense, believe that they do. With words we can bring healing. With words we can fight for justice. With words we can also spread love and with words we can find peace. This is my attempt to keep reminding myself of the power inherent in the words I choose to speak. Today I choose to keep the power of words. I choose to keep their salience in my life. I am a lover of words especially, the type spoken with grace and full of wisdom like the idea of going far with people rather than alone. It’s the thing I want to tell myself to never forget, how words helped to change my life. It’s probably why I easily gravitate to grant writing. For when the right words are place together in the right way, there is truly power. Keep the power of words for yourself too. You just might become powerful.

I watched this morning as black birds flew back and forth from the roof of my home to a tree in the middle of our compound. They took turns going back and forth, back and forth for 1-2 minutes. I stood there wondering whether there was something on the tree, whether they were flying away from something or whether the birds were just keeping themselves busy. There were little birds flying around, medium-sized birds perched on top of trees together, and large birds flying around like the baby birds. In all, the most poignant lesson I learnt this morning from these birds is that we are never supposed to alone. Almost all the birds flew around with another bird, or perched on top of tree tops next to another bird. Even those who flew around solo, flew to meet up with other birds. It was as if the birds were taking the time to teach me the importance of being together.

Birds in the sky!

Simon Sinek in his book entitled “Together is better,” talked about the importance of doing something with purpose. But even that purpose will not amount to anything if you are not surrounded by the right people who give you the courage to keep going. I call this purpose with people. Like the birds, we are all supposed to fly through life in communion with people who help us live our purpose to the fullest. ‘Life’ as Simon noted ‘is difficult and dangerous and anyone who would attempt to do is alone is simply mad.’ I agree. To also quote an African proverb, which Simon also mentioned in his book ‘to go fast, go alone, to go far, go together.’ Ooh the places and things you will see and learn if only you go with people. These birds taught me that this morning. In life, and for your journey, surround yourself with people who help you live out your purpose. It may also be crazy and scary whatever you purpose is. That’s ok too.

Alone, the ideas will always be crazy. But together, in the hands of the right people, even crazy ideas become world class innovation. Together, we are unstoppable, like birds in the sky who flock together. I learnt this first hand when I submitted the most craziest grant I have ever written last week. Together, we were sterling even though only time will tell whether the reviewers thought we were or not. In the meantime, keep being together like birds in the sky.

I listened back in May as one of the survivors from the Tulsa massacre testified before Congress. She was clear in her demands. That Congress recognize the massacre that occurred in Tulsa now before she departs. She also noted she has been waiting for this moment all her life. The words so eloquently spoken by Viola Fletcher kept me broken for awhile. She was only 7 when the massacre occurred. There were dead bodies everywhere. Places and neighborhood that used to bring memories of joy were torn apart by an angry mob all because the inhabitants of those places were black. 100 years later, Ms. Viola remembers that day vividly. She remembers the violence, Black men being shot. She remembers frightening sights, black bodies lying in the street. She remembers screeching sounds, of airplanes and people screaming. She remembers the rioting, black business burnt to ground. She also remembers quietness, though others may be silent and quiet about Tulsa, the burden of that painful day lingers. For 100 years Ms Fletcher has re-lived the massacre in her mind over and over again. A burden she carried for 100 years.

Ms. Viola Fletcher, the oldest survivor of Tulsa Race Massacre.

Though our country may have forgotten about Tulsa she stated, she cannot forget. To have survived to tell this story 100 years later is a monumental task. 300 Black people were killed and another 10,000 were left homeless. Greenwood was destroyed by the attack that was launched on May 31, 1921. And the survivors want one thing and one thing only, justice. They lived so we never forget what happened in Tulsa 100 years ago. They lived so we never forget that Black lives have always fought for justice for what just is. They lived so we remember Tulsa. Remember that this too is this country’s history, a painful one, but one nonetheless that demands to be told and retold for also long as time remains. But most of all, they lived so all us never forget that Black Lives Matter. That’s what I am hoping for. That Viola and the other survivors of this massacre will get the justice they deserve for Black Lives and properties and lands and opportunities that mattered. Keep fighting for justice for Tulsa.

The cabin was built in 1855. A pre-Civil war log cabin. I imagine there were no individuals or children even like my own who graced the floors of this cabin back in 1855. I imagine too that we will always be our ancestors wildest dreams. To be able to touch such a log cabin. To feel it’s structure, walk on its foundation, run our hands through the dark grey logs that line the side of the cabin, all of it seemed surreal to me today on our historic journey through Drace Park.

It’s also officially the first day of summer in our household. My plans are simple. To visit parks throughout Saint Louis. We started the day at Drace Park. I was first attracted to this park for its signage: Respect the past; Honor the present; Protect the future. What past I wondered? The one were my ancestors weren’t free. The ones where our hands probably built these cabins in scorching heat. What present, I also wondered? Honoring the ones where we are still not free to think in ways that illuminates our uniqueness. A present were we still try to make sense of what our black doesn’t matter. Finally what future? What do we protect for the future? Log cabins? people? I imagine the future will have so many questions for the past, just as I still have many questions for present. Drace Park had a lot to offer to my kids and myself. We walked through the trails, traced our hands through the walls, took pictures and celebrated the fact that we are doing our own part to respect the past that matters to us, the present with so many lessons yet to learn and a future where uncertainties abound.

We are our ancestors wildest dreams. To see such apark with it’s historic log cabins all now juxtaposed next to a playground area for kids, is the right start to summer my kids and I needed. I intend to have many more summer days like this. My children of course are happy with the playground area, which we had all to ourselves this morning. Walking along the park’s trial was a treat. A dirt digging area, a welcome joy for my little ones who spent most of their time digging and digging I anticipate that summer will be long, and with the right questions guiding every park visit we make, I expect to learn how my present matters not just for my past but for my journey ahead with my future. Keep Drace Park and their log cabins in mind.

My home is surrounded by peonies in full bloom. They were planted by the prior owners. A gift to us that I will forever treasure. It’s fragrant too. The fabulous pink and white flowers are ethereal and with a fragrant undertone that is a special treat to our home. Ants like bees also surround the peonies. They are everywhere. They visit to collect the nectars extruded on the outside of the peony bud. The nectars are a source of carbohydrates for the ants. And in-spite of these ants, peonies continue to bloom in ways so extravagant but unforgettable, so carefree, but elegant. And my home is surrounded by them.

When our peonies started to bloom!
In full bloom!
My baby next to them.

Prior to the pandemic, one of the things I gifted myself on a weekly basis were flowers. Nothing special, just a thank you to myself for being me. It was a daily ritual for self-care. One that I neglected once the pandemic began. We were all striving to be Covid-free so the last thing on my mind were flowers. Enter this spring. Something about my home being surrounded by flowers keeps me on my knees in thanksgiving to my God. And his gift, the flowers I will forever now treasure as his gift to our home, to my eyes, peonies in full bloom. For the past 3 weeks, all sorts of colorful peonies have been blooming around my home. From deep purple to luscious pink and sterling white, every specie is truly a rare fusion of fluff and majesty. And to think that this stately and dignified flower belongs to me, my family keeps me on my knees in humble adoration to my maker.

Deep pink peonies.
Luscious pink peonies.

I am living out his testimony of trust. Even the young grow weak and tired, he says. But those who trust in the lord, shall truly live out his blessings on earth. Peonies are the sublime manifestation of God’s blessings to me. It never also occurred to me that I could harvest them. For the past 3 weeks I have been watching them that it never occurred to me that I could go a bit further and bring them home, into the house, like the other flowers I buy until this week. This week, my God reminded me that he is God. You say you want blessings, look outside, he said. You are blessed. You can also bring it inside.

This week, for the first time since all my flowers started to bloom, I brought my first flowers inside. Peonies are the first flowers from my garden in my home and they take my breathe away. Another thing, peonies are characterized by their morphology. Some are single with five or more petals with a center called staminodes for stamens that are usually not pollen bearing. Others are semi-double peonies have five or more outer petals and a center with stamens that are pollen-bearing. My garden is full of double peonies. My God is having the last laugh with me. These double peonies with their five or more petals and even central stamen are transformed into petals such that all you see are rows upon rows of petals. A full flower in all sense of the word, whose beauty takes my breathe away. Peonies are as fascinating as they are brilliant to the eyes. Keep them for the blessings they are.

Harvesting my peonies for the first time!

A friend shared this quote yesterday in the middle of a crazy work schedule: “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”― Patanjali

I will share insights from my journey the past month with writing the best grant of my life. I obviously don’t know whether it will ever get funded but it was pure joy writing this one. Reading this quote shared by my friend helped me a lot during the last mile stretch of the grantwriting journey. As if the universe also knew I needed further encouragement, I was taken to the book of Isaiah this morning, chapter 41 verse 10. Not only will God call you, but when he does, he wants you to not be afraid. He is God and nothing will terrify you. He is prepared to make you strong and help you. He is also prepared to protect and save you. He is ultimately the Lord your God and when you live in his purpose for your life, nothing will terrify you. I am not afraid to live in my purpose. The past month solidified it hence why I am keeping this here. Keep living in your purpose and trust God.

“A year ago, today I witnessed a murder. The victim’s name was George Floyd. Although this wasn’t the first time, I’ve seen a black man get killed at the hands of the police, this is the first time I witnessed it happen in front of me. Right in front of my eyes, a few feet away. I didn’t know this man from a can of paint, but I knew his life mattered. I knew that he was in pain. I knew that he was another black man in danger with no power. I was only 17 at the time, just a normal day for me walking my 9-year-old cousin to the corner store, not even prepared for what I was about to see, not even knowing my life was going to change on this exact day in those exact moments… it did. It changed me. It changed how I viewed life. It made me realize how dangerous it is to be Black in America. We shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around police officers, the same people that are supposed to protect and serve. We are looked at as thugs, animals, and criminals, all because of the color of our skin. Why are Black people the only ones viewed this way when every race has some type of wrongdoing? None of us are to judge. We are all human. I am 18 now and I still hold the weight and trauma of what I witnessed a year ago. It’s a little easier now, but I’m not who I used to be. A part of my childhood was taken from me. My 9-year-old cousin who witnessed the same thing I did got a part of her childhood taken from her. Having to up and leave because my home was no longer safe, waking up to reporters at my door, closing my eyes at night only to see a man who is brown like me, lifeless on the ground. I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks. I used to shake so bad at night my mom had to rock me to sleep. Hopping from hotel to hotel because we didn’t have a home and looking over our back every day in the process. Having panic and anxiety attacks every time I seen a police car, not knowing who to trust because a lot of people are evil with bad intentions. I hold that weight. A lot of people call me a hero even though I don’t see myself as one. I was just in the right place at the right time. Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day. Everyone talks about the girl who recorded George Floyd’s death, but to actually be her is a different story. Not only did this affect me, my family too. We all experienced change. My mom the most. I strive every day to be strong for her because she was strong for me when I couldn’t be strong for myself. Even though this was a traumatic life-changing experience for me, I’m proud of myself. If it weren’t for my video, the world wouldn’t have known the truth. I own that. My video didn’t save George Floyd, but it put his murderer away and off the streets. You can view George Floyd anyway you choose to view him, despite his past, because don’t we all have one? He was a loved one, someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother, and someone’s friend. We the people won’t take the blame, you won’t keep pointing fingers at us as if it’s our fault, as if we are criminals. I don’t think people understand how serious death is…that person is never coming back. These officers shouldn’t get to decide if someone gets to live or not. It’s time these officers start getting held accountable. Murdering people and abusing your power while doing it is not doing your job. It shouldn’t have to take people to actually go through something to understand it’s not ok. It’s called having a heart and understanding right from wrong. George Floyd, I can’t express enough how I wish things could have went different, but I want you to know you will always be in my heart. I’ll always remember this day because of you. May your soul rest in peace. May you rest in the most beautiful roses.”

I remember where I was a little over a year ago watching social media feeds of man lying on the ground saying words that have now become to familiar “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd may have left the world a year ago to day, but his legacy reverberates and will continue to remain long after my days on this earth are numbered. There is a healing necessary for all to have, critical if you are black or brown. George in uttering those familiar words meant that I even the air I breathe will be used for justice in his name. I woke up today looking at the labor of love that I have been engaged in the past 30 days. It’s an audacious task this desire in me to let people’s legacy live on and George is by far top of my list. For as long as I can breathe, my hope is for no black or brown boy or girl, woman or man, to ever say those words he uttered on that faithful day. And if they do, if we continue to fail the next generation of boys and girls, then as a group, as humanity, we are doomed. The work is fraught with difficulties, but I am committed to doing my part.