First day blues. Today was the first day since I last taught a class, a little over a year ago. It’s seems like a long time ago. My mindset begins blues. My mind was set on new ways to cultivate this course, elevate this class too. We are heavy on Sinek. Start with why, my forever muse. It’s a grant writing class. So finding why, is what I forever choose. The golden circle my forever mood. Behind the scenes, though, three children were sick with cold. Something viral in the air with all the back to school blues. I caught it too. Still we proceeded with today, nervous as ever, for every start of a new semester, a new set of blues, new set of rules and tools, for weary souls. There is still a pandemic too. Yet we begin, as if my world has not been turned upside down since August, as if these blues have not depressed my mind. We moved with ease too. Seeing new faces, new minds to cultivate, bring joy for this call to elevate. Never want to get to the top without minds we elevate. So I settled down to reach each one, as best as I could, with stories that would help shift minds as best as it could. We don’t teach here. We reach minds. There were talks of failure as an opportunity. My stories through academia are ripe with failures. Lavish ones to boast of. Of ways to fail eloquently, yet rise still eloquent, for the call to elevate minds is a movement, a moment so full of eloquence. There were peaks and valleys or stories of moments of joy, moments of despair through this process of cultivating minds. They loved it. This isn’t a grant writing class I said. It’s one where we throw all rules out the door. For to be the best at this, to truly work to cultivate minds, you will need to elevate minds to think outside the box, outside all they have stocked in neat piles about grant writing. I don’t do piles. I don’t teach either. Just stories. Every grant is a storytelling tell to me. So we begin there, with your why story. They smiled. I smiled too. We are hooked. First day blues keep me smiling all day too. Day 1 down, 12 more to go. Keep first day blues with new classes.
There is nothing like introducing a child to Shel Silverstine. ‘A light in the attic’ being one of my favorite of his. Of course ‘where the sidewalk ends’ is equally fantastic. Then don’t let me get started on ‘the giving tree.’ Everything he wrote and illustrated is truly worthy of praises. Not because he was gifted with his craft, but more so because of his rare combination of poems and drawings for dreamers and those who love to imagine, believer and those who like to believe differently, thinkers and those who do so differently, dream, believe and think, different. To introduce him to my son was a delight. To watch the light in his attic flicker on was joy. We spent the entire summer drawing, all sorts of pigeon particularly from Mo Willems ‘Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus.’ Discovering drawing with cartoons was one of the best thing we did we all summer with him. I never knew he loved to draw until this summer thanks to Mo Willems and his brilliantly simple tales of a pigeon.
It allowed him to focus, as in not for minutes but hours even on pigeons, drawing and illustrating books and books of it in other versions like The Pigeon gets a hotdog. He was not only drawing, but committing words to memory, reciting them all to himself in ways that make sense to his mind. Doing so, allowed him to temper his meltdowns. Some drawings will be poor, full of mistakes too. Some will make you mad, disappointed or frustrated with yourself too. But the ones that stand the test of time. The ones that defy the odd and leap through the pages to tell your story as clearly as you want are the ones full of joy, full of delight, full of all his light.
Now enter Shel Silverstine. Before there was Mo and all his pigeon tales, Silverstine shined brightly. A light in the attic is a classic of his. Short and sweet for minds quirky but full of treats. And my son’s mind is superb, with Silverstine’s work a gentle treat, so soft but full of power like the sounds of a drumbeat. Where he ends, whether with the bridge that only my son can take across his mind past moonlit woods on a magic carpet through the air or past whistling and whirling winds from skies so grey, is where my som begins. The journey is endless with Shel Silverstine and I can wait to watch as he journeys through it all. There is a light in the attic of his mind. Though we are all outside, we keep looking as flickers with his light.
The air is full of possibilities these days. Full of grit and full of persistence when you remain rooted in knowledge. The winds are changing too. And when they blow, things will move too. Something about the start of the new school year almost always feels like a cleansing time for me. Time to get rid of old and in with new. Time to change also, for the wind is blowing. It has been a very difficult summer for me and my family. But as I get ready to start my first week of teaching, I am ready to nurture this delicate balance we call life to the fullest, one story at a time. A purposeful quiet is brewing too, potentially making the new school year one filled with possibilities even in distant horizons.
I listened to an hour long episode of the life of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross today on NPR’s Radio Lab. It’s was as if someone, somewhere needed to remind me of her work. Dr. Ross was the pioneer on death and dying and the stages people go through right before they die. From denial, to anger, depression, to bargaining, and acceptance, she showed through painstakingly research that people dying are humans too, with feelings and emotions worthy of documenting, if not for their passage, then for those that remain to get through life, one day at a time despite their loss. People left behind, also go through stages of grief that are similar to stages of dying. My grieving for Angie makes more sense now. I am still angry with her, denial too, for she was gone too soon, and all of this seems like a dream. The episode however, reviewed the beginning including how Dr. Ross got into studying death. I know of her work and her book, but not really her life or that she was one of triplets for example.
But of all I heard, what struck me what that as Dr. Ross was getting ready to die, as she prepared for her passage to the great unknown, the stage the cameras fully captured where the periods of her anger. Even Dr. Ross was angry about her own pending death. That’s when it hit me. Dying is inevitable. We all know this. Those who are lucky enough to witness their own death in plain view are the lucky ones. They at least get to prepare, whether they are angry with death or not, accepting of it or not. The key thing is that they prepare. It’s inevitable after all and so why not prepare for the journey to the great unknown. You can choose to be angry. Life is too short, so being angry with your own death is acceptable. You may choose to be happy. To see your own death coming, takes a lot of courage that happiness, acceptance of it is probably the sweetest part of living, a zen-like state that only the pleasure of dying can achieve. To think dying, can be full of pleasure is such an oxymoron that no one living wants to contemplate. But what if we do. What if we actually start living as if any single day just might be the day we die?
Of course, you may choose to become depressed, bargain with doctors even for the right to live, if you knew your death was near. I think of Chadwick Boseman for example. His one year anniversary of his passing is today. I know he probably accepted his death, but I recall feeling depressed for him when I heard the news last year. I would have bargained with all my might to live. I would have been depressed too for there were still so much to give from this young and gifted man. Yet, when his time came, he too left, in whatever stage he found himself in. The consolation too from all the reports I read following his passing was that he was prepared. Something that very few of us will have the opportunity to attain when our own time comes. Which brings me to the living. Death is inevitable. We all know this. Even the greatest and richest ones among us will die too. But what are you doing to prepare? How are you living as if today was your last day? It’s a powerful reminder to live life fully. Do it on your own terms so that when the time comes, you are prepared. And those you live behind, they too will be accepting of whatever stage you left with when your time came. It’s inevitable afterall. So prepare while you are still living.
August has been a whirlwind month. We are still making sense of this month. Still hoping that we would wake up from this dream. Still asking questions. Still wondering why. Still confused as to how we got here. Still wishing we never got here. Still hoping for all this to go away. But most of all still wishing Angi was here with us. Today marks two weeks since she left us. My husband still has questions. I have some too. We have no answer, no way of getting to the bottom of our ordeal and this is the most difficult aspect of it all. To think we could have saved her if we knew on time. My sister should be alive is all he says. I agree is what I say. We know that our questions will never fully be answered. Still we ask them to ourselves, to each other, to remind ourselves that no woman, no girl too we know, or don’t even know should ever go through this ordeal again. It’s our mission. One we hope to share with the world, to make sure we get to the bottom of cervical cancer. We can end it. We will. We were encouraged by a card we receive in the mail today. A perpetual Catholic mass card in Angie’s honor. It came today, exactly 2 weeks. We are motivated. Our fight will be perpetual too.
The new school year is in full swing. A note to myself: Take it easy. Remember you are not really in competition with anyone but yourself. Hidden within the commandment love your neighbor as yourself, is the need to love yourself first. Without which I am sorry for your neighbor. So love yourself this new school year. Whatever you want to do, however you want to do it as well, do. It’s your ride and race. This thing called life. Here today, gone tomorrow. And the world would move on as if you never existed. So yes, take it easy or take am jeje, as pidgin English would suggest. Life na jeje after all.
No need attending anything too you don’t feel like or liking anything you attend. To be of use, to yourself first, to those you love, like these little boys and a growing little girl that needs a present mother, a loving and gentle one too is all that matters. Life Na jeje after all. No need overdoing anything or letting anything overdo you. It’s just a thing afterall and you matter. All of you. If the thing is going to lower your vibrations or take you down a path worth avoiding, then don’t go. Only go towards things that lift your vibrations up, challenge you too to do more than you can ever hope or imagine. Move towards things that let you remain in light. With grace and beauty too, take the time to become the light you were and are destined to be come in your own way, your own pace. This life Na jeje after all. Finally no need being in spaces that don’t value your many phases. We all change. A blue sky turns grey in a twinkle of an eye. Plants too and trees. So how much less all of us humans. So need being in spaces that don’t understand what it means to change. You will change. You have changed through this past year alone and I expect more change to come your way as you embrace this phase of your life. Afterall, even this phase of your life Na je je with all you have to care for.
To be of use to them, will require you to be of use to yourself, take an easy, don’t attend what you don’t want to attend, don’t do anything you don’t want to and don’t be in spaces that don’t value all of your phases. This life Na je je and as the new school year begins in full swing, take am easy is my keep.
Yesterday I listened to a conversation with black youth that changed my life. I have lived but not with intent and purpose until this past year. Not even with an unwavering commitment to becoming anti-racist in my work until recently. Granted the pandemic and the George Floyd killing and protests played a role, but connecting with people, some new, some old, some unexpected has made me into a woman with vision, conviction too of what to do to bring radical healing to all black youth. I am prepared to work with anyone interested in creating a space for black youth to reimagine a better way for their health. I am prepared to support them so they can act on whatever vision they want for their health.
Prior to the start of the summer, I was part of a group that wrote a radical proposal to bring healing and transformation to a generation in desperate need for their voices to be heard. This call for radical healing is part of what Dr. Shawn Ginwright advocates in his book Black Youth Rising. He calls for the use of unconventional strategies that inspire youth to act towards personal restoration for their health and wellness and demands institutional change and justice for all black youths. Moreover when communities come together, when we do so with the sole objective to thrive and not merely survive, Dr Ginwright suggested that these new approaches will not only rebuild hope, but will also foster healing from years of oppressive social, economic, educational conditions. We were sold and wrote our proposal with his emancipatory vision in mind. The grant reviewers thought otherwise and didn’t even discuss our grant. To them what we proposed, that black youth may have the audacity to rise and act to resist social marginalization while confronting inequities with their health wasn’t transformational enough. We respectfully disagree. Yesterday proved we are on to something.
Though we were not successful, one thing we did not do ourselves was listen to black youth themselves beyond the articles we read and reviewed. We did so yesterday. I am forever in awe and totally grateful for the insight 6 black youth shared with us yesterday. They were open. Nothing out of the ordinary, but with their unique voices and perspectives with life often not represented in our public health field. They felt heard and seen. Felt loved too and protected. They dreamed of dreams they felt could be achieved and healing they desperately want to achieve. We listened under the guidance of Alexis, our extraordinary tour guide, as they shared parts of themselves they felt society fails to recognize exists. By the time our one hour meeting was over, I was ready to scream, shout too, with an eloquent rage. Enough is enough. Black youth, all youth need anti-racist response to their health. Not the response that is tokenism, or a space filler, or even top down and carried out by so-called experts, myself and those in my field included, but the one they control. They would do it for free too if we let them. We are prepared to do so. The details are still murky, but our vision is clear. There is a need for black youth to rise. A black youth rising movement too with health. We are ready to start the journey with them. Join us if you may. Or watch as we finally create a platform where all black youth, all youth can arise. Either way, we are prepared to ensure they arise.
He never stops spinning around. My son. He never stops. We were at music school waiting for his turn to begin his piano lessons. Rather than wait, he starts to spin around and around. With his cream-colored shirt and the label ‘full of sunshine’ across his chest, he spun around over again. The sun shines on him fully, like a ray that brightens up any dark day. He continues to spin and spin until he falls. Then slowly he got up and continued to spin. As if the fall meant nothing. As if his knees scrapped nothing too. So to is the story I want to tell. It’s full of sunshines, full of spins, full of falls, and full of rising up. When you raise four black children and work, when three are black boys and one a little black girl, when tears are your music and the floor your friend, life becomes a song that keeps spinning and spinning, sometimes our of track, sometimes with a fall, but most times with a rise. This is my story, this is my song. Welcome to a black mom in light. Welcome to light.
What’s your story? I have been struggling with this lately. A friend called me out too. Said I call myself a storyteller but struggle with each story I tell. There was some truth to it. I write and stop writing. I tell stories and stop telling them. Not because I don’t want to write or tell my story but because of distractions. There have been a lot this year. Broken pipes, cancer, death. It’s only August. What my story? It’s still unfolding, not sure if the world deserves it yet too. But I’ll keep trying to tell whatever story I can. It’s a beautiful struggle too.
We talked about you today. It’s been a week so we talked about you. Distance may have been the amount of space between us. But forever we are close, almost inseparable now through time. So we talked about you today. Each day helps. Something about morning dew, makes each day easy to bear. So we talked about your strength and tenacity to live. We talked about how you made each one of us stand tall, brightly too despite everything, your pain too. We talked about your gratitude and grace in the end. You were never afraid to say thank you, despite the end looming. We wanted you to fight. You wanted to rest, gracious for our fight. Your voice will forever stay etched in my mind. You were never afraid to run your length of race called life. Never unrelenting. Never detached. Never separated. Never even removed from the pain you were going through, for you wanted us to stay strong. Now we sit here wishing we could draw closer, tighter too, like the tight arms of a new baby around their mothers. Distance may have been what separated use. But forever and time, we will draw closer to you, our angel.