Beyond the tears, beyond the sighs, beyond the frustrations born out of nothing, something, everything, there is a child, waiting to be seen, hoping to be heard, wishing to be held. See them, hear them, hold them. Something must yield. Your hope, your flesh, your future, dwells too in this child. Dwell in them. We are in a space where we know how the roots hold the tree. We keep holding too.

With the Archbishop of St. Louis!

We spent our Sunday in somber reflection on what it means to follow Jesus like St. Matthews the tax collector. The Archbishop of St Louis paid our small church a visit and we learnt first hand that following Jesus was for everyone, tax collectors, mothers, all of us fighting never ending battles of wanting to pull your hair. Sunday’s are tough in our home. The in between a great weekend and back to school mode can be tough. But I still choose to tough it out, knowing these are my roots and they must dwell in me.

What I am carrying is mighty? I am carrying dreams that are bigger than me. I am learning that everyday. It also takes time. Nothing happens by accident. Even the good news I shared yesterday, first has to go through failure for success to become ours. I am learning to be patient with time. The me of before, the one that rushed into grant writing early, was so anxious and ready to get any that I just wrote and wrote and failed and failed. It should never be that way. Didn’t I have any mentors, a dear friend of mine once asked? Why did you write all those grants and kept failing but still kept writing?

Honestly, I was eager to learn? I knew that this business of writing grants was full of rejections. My very first grant was initially rejected before it became successful. So I know too that to get one, you have to fail. What I didn’t know was that I would fail so many times and yes I had mentors? I just thought I was on to something and if only reviewers believed in me like I believed in myself, than that something would be the greatest work ever. It has taken years and learning past failure to know that truly, what works is a vision, a story.

Ideas are plenty. I get them everyday. I have many that failed. What is necessary is your will to endure all that comes with the ideas and may your endurance be bigger than you imagine. Yesterday’s success was a difficult grant to write. We initially wanted to keep it simple, but our local leader pushed and pushed us to go big or go home. I initially refused and then bought into his vision reluctantly. It’s his field and I thought all I was doing was helping him visualize how far we would take it.

What I didn’t know at that time, was that cervical cancer had buried its roots in our home. We initially submitted the first version of the grant June 4th 2021. I got the news of my sister in-law’s illness, something we thought was just minor on June 5th. That was the day I knew what our leader had been warning us about all these years. He always said cervical cancer was a problem. I said ok, but didn’t know the extent. But on June 5th, my world changed. I moved from anger to fury to denial and anger, wishing and praying that this was a bad dream. We tried everything. In the end, everything we did was not enough.

So I continued to do what I knew how to do best, write grants so no woman would die from cervical cancer again. As we begin, this new research, I am leaving this year to remind myself to never forget to dream and dream big. None of this is possible without a dream, and a story to propel you though what may be a tough writing experience. Those grants I failed, they were always well written, but lacked vision and ways to become impactful. I am learning that everyday. The need to move past failures to spaces where dreams soar. Those bigger than you. It’s my keep for today.

May your dreams propel you to new heights.

I said I wasn’t going to cry. Said I would be strong as we still have miles to go. I have typed and retyped what I would say when a day like today arrives and honestly I stand in awe. To think that the news of our victory came on 9-22-22 keeps me numb. Thank you Angie for fighting in heaven for this one. Thank you for letting it be known that death does not have to have the final say. To be in this work is rough. Tough too. There has been days and nights in which all is given and nothing is received in return. But then I remember Chinua Achebe’s word, his reminder that until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will only glorify hunter. So then I set out to be a lion. Set out because your death was overpowering. Your living too. But your death continues to haunt me.

I have been haunted by how it all transpired, haunted by the fact that we had no idea until it was too late. Years of figuring out the public’s health meant that I couldn’t even use all my knowledge to save my loved one’s life. So I have been trying to figure out how we lost our way. When did it become all about health and not enough about the public. I first discovered what was killing you when it was too late. You were not able to walk. Not able to talk in the last days and nights of your life. We couldn’t even get you on the plane to travel from Jos to Lagos as your condition was to dire to take chances. We still did. Living, we figured, was far better than dying. Everyone pitched in where they could. Bathed you and fed you. Prayed over you and anointed you when the end seemed so close. We all kept wondering and asking why and how and why and how only to end up with a grave that now belongs to us. We have been having a very hard time adjusting to your death. An equally hard time with the absence of your being. Your voice still echoes in my minds. All the things you called me, like Osodieme. We still vividly recall mama screaming and crying as she watched her only daughter die while she lived. Still hear her questions and wondering if we had any idea that you were dying. We did and we tried everything was all we could mutter. Afraid she would die too, we kept all this from her until the last week you both had together. Here was a woman who brought you to this world. Now she watched you die, wishing she was the one dying and not you.

These are all the things that have played in our head and minds since cervical cancer came to our door. You have taken us back to ourselves, back to all we know, just so we stand fierce and ready to do the battle necessary. I expect us to struggle. We are lions and the history of the hunt has never been in our favor. But we will tell our story one day, share of all the ways we struggled and all the ways we triumphed, just so no other woman dies from cervical cancer. We have kept moments of silence, done due diligence to your sunset, just so your sunrise will remain sterling again. This is the start of your sunrise and from today, may your story, like you, be fierce and ferocious as we bear witness to voices silenced, yet triumphant, those prepared to live and begin again, beyond their cervix, beyond the thing that tried to silence them forever. It failed. We are living proof. Beyond our fury, for girls and women by girls and women are all the ways your light shines past your death. We stand in awe.

When a woman dies, and her cervix is to blame, catapulting her from the prime of her life, to her grave, what remains as a witness to her life, her stories, her cervix, her silenced voice? Who will resuscitate a life cut down by cervix?

Still sitting here contemplating why women die from cervical cancer? Image from Lucille Clifton.

As I watch my life story slowly change, with cervical cancer elimination, our next attempt at putting the public first in public health, so many questions remain. I look forward to all the struggles and hope ahead on this journey.

Nobody gave her anything. Not the one she loved. Not the ones that loved her. Not even the ones she confided in, all things great, all things small. And so she sailed through life. Not giving. Not laying it all down. Not showing how she endured and endured until her last breath when her cervix got the final world. It did.

I am learning everyday, life is short. Love life like air, like mango trees. Ije uwa. Only this matters. No matter how small, keep your story. Write it as a note, a song, a book, the wind, or the kernels of a sheri mango. For candles will blow, tears will fall, even mangos grow old and perish. But your story will always remain, always speak for you, even when you become one with the earth.

Image from
the memoirs of Dr. Ogbuokiri.

I’m in a space where stories matter. I know the pain maybe unbearable, but using this medium to share that he lived a great life, like the mango trees of his childhood. May we all get to appreciate time and age so gracefully.

I talk to my late grandma, often, every Sunday in particular. Whenever I say my prayers after holy communion, I say hello to her. English was not her first language. So all her prayers were in pidgin English and Igbo back then. She mixed both languages often. My favorite being the one for Blessed Sacrament. Mma Mma nke Chi ne ke, Kedu? That what I say to her often. Thats how she prayed then. That and I hope she is doing well. Papa too and every single ancestor that joined her in heaven. They say you never forget the one that formed you, the one that framed you too. The one that made it possible so you exist. I cannot forget Mama. Not when she is the reason I exist. The mother of Onyelo, the one who gave birth to something so impossible. I am an impossible being. To know her story, to recall how she never gave up, to see what persistence looks like, know and feel it too, is my keep for today. We were never meant to be. I should not be here today. But I am and for that I will do all that I can, so all things impossible become possible. Love and miss you Mama. Sleep well.

Mama holding Rose!

You will look for me and not find me. You will look near flowers red like hibiscus, near those small like roses. You will look for me near things small and red, near things you hold dear, like the picture of Onyelo, next to Papa, with Mama Ocha, holding Rose. Only, that you are not a flower, you are not fleeting, and moments like this, like rapture, are endless blessings, like walking on water, like turning wine to water, this moment of you, holding Rose forever .

I imagine a people can lose sight of their history. Become swept away by the current of other people’s history. Ignore too when the rain began to beat them that they forget to dry themselves up. All of this is grave. The loosing sight, being swept away and simply forgetting. But of all this, prescribing solutions through one vision, is like death. No good comes out of graves. Everyone needs to figure out their part with the story, use their strength, and do what they know, even though dangers remain ahead. You may fail too. That’s okay. Failure is an option, though we won’t dwell on it. We will build on its strengths, it’s possibilities, and every sign it uses to lead to success. The work we do must be in service of others despite our failure. It must make their life easy too, like art, like poetry, like form, like lines, like every attempt to use the master’s language, never forgetting the moon rises for all. I am in a space they call moonrise.

“I am an endangered species.

But I sing no victim song.

I am a woman.

I am an artist.

And I know where my voice belongs…

To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream, wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true.

I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like.

This is what striving looks like and don’t you ever, ever, give up on you…”

I was blown away by these words sang and spoken by the great Sheryl Lee Ralph at the Emmy’s yesterday. I met her once, in person in undergrad when I attended a leadership program in Philadelphia and I was mesmerized. Anyone that has come in contact with her, ultimately feels like you are in the presence of royalty, a queen. Watching her acceptance sang and spoken yesterday brought great joy to my soul. This is one deserved award for a very brilliant and powerful woman and I hope her words will inspire you as it did for me.

There is a part of a grant, more poignant to me these days. It’s the part that keeps me up every night. The part that keeps me restless. The part often hidden. The part that anchors me. The part too that absorbs everything and transports me to new heights. The part worthy of digging. The part that helps me convey my dreams. The part often difficult to clarify. They part that moves in multiple directions. The part that is my source of everything. It is my origin, my seed, my beginning, my once upon a time, my core, my foundation, my essence, my base, my fundamental, my most important aspect of the grant. All parts of a grant are important. But this part, like a tree, makes me cry. I am like a tree planted by water, sending out roots to the water. I am not afraid of heat. I always stay green. No rain, no worries. I keep beating fruit. I keep putting my trust in him. I am a grant writer because of the significance section. The significance section is where all my energy for a grant comes from. Find your significance, get a sense of its root, it’s foundation, and then go change the world to a point.

The news of the Queens death came to me yesterday in the middle of work. I paused to immediately reflect on the number 70 and the age 25. Here was a woman who ruled her land for over 70 years, a land she inherited at the age of 25. Legacies are built this way, young and over a long period of time. Like many though, I also tried to imagine all the things that legacy carries, the good, the bad, the unspoken, the hidden, the hurdles, the joy, the pain, and whatever may personify love. Such a legacy, one built over 70 years includes all of this and more, many in full view for all to see and many we will never know. Independence also immediately came to mind as images of what happened when African countries, like Ghana, Nigeria asked for their independence under her watch. I imagine those conversations were not easy, probably disturbing and ultimately met with agreement. To also rule over that legacy kept me both numb and uneasy about her passing. Places we call home have a history that includes the Queen’s legacy, a history that is often told from one point of view to the detriment of other points of view.

So yesterday all the unknown stories about this 70 year legacy came into my mind like a flood. They say when an old person dies, a library dies with them and truly I felt like a trillion libraries died with the Queen yesterday. I still have questions, some I know the answers will not be easy, some I know will never be known. But for all her legacy, how she kept all this intact is my keep for today. That and what is your legacy and what are you doing to keep it whether 2 years or 70 years later. Are you also speaking things unspeakable to your situation, reveling in the joys and hurdles of life, or will your story, like your legacy die the moment you depart? These questions are among the reasons why I ask anyone I know to try to keep something about themselves, their way, so their libraries remain, long after they are gone. The full picture of your life will never truly be known, but at least you will have a say is what is to be told about you, when words fail you.

For me, I have been writing for two years, the only way I can. I call it my ‘What’ll keep.’ Part reflections, part poetry, part notes, some little, some long, but all worthy of being kept. I began this list as a form of detour from the trauma of homeschooling a child on the spectrum during a global pandemic. I wanted to give a sense of the beauty, the hurdles, the joy, the truth about life as a mother and life as being black and female in academia. I wanted to also reclaim my essence beyond the narrow confines of academic world view.

See, I am more than whatever academic paper you will read about me. I have always know this. I also know my role within academia, what to do and not do, all in the name of survival. I wanted to take all the pieces of me, those known and unknown, those I am discovering and uncovering, every single thing complicated and uncomplicated about my world and give them a space to breathe, all on their own. My one mission was to give attention to all aspects of my life that are often hidden, but yet central to what I do as a parent and professor. I also called it finding my light.

I have been in darkness for too long. You will, if all you use is the master’s language. So I sought other styles, created this space, just so all of me could flourish as I wanted. This blog will always be the best gift I gave to myself and my career, two years ago. That I continue to celebrate this recalibration of my career is no small feat. It may all seem like a long list of things to keep. It’s intentional. It may seem disjointed, not connected as finely as any introduction, methods, result or discussion section would suggest. It’s intentional. It may also seem like I’m unproductive from an academic standpoint when all my energy is spent on few words or long essays that I can’t even cite on my CV. That too is intentional. It was never for my CV. Never too for academia even though it has so many academic undertones.

The truth is that it was for that divergent part of my brain, the part that knows our worth and refuses for us to be boxed in one corner or described as such as such, the part that loves writing, grant writing in particularly, the part to that would rather write and fail than never ever write a grant again. For that part to flourish, then it would need a break every now and then and this list of things to keep have been the perfect gift to me. I am in awe of all I have written down in 2 years. In awe too of how writing in this way keeps giving and giving to my intellectual life.

It’s been 2 years of relentless pursuit of something to keep and this fearless unearthing of all I choose to keep, my way, is the clarity with life, that I never knew my soul needed. I truly appreciate the grace each keep offers. They are my legacy, my words, my way. Here is to two years down and many more to go. Happy Anniversary.

She said to me, Isioma, we have a problem. It’s been 15 months since these words were first uttered to me. I still remember them like yesterday. With all the pain those words caused, with all the anger and despair, we have been told only time will heal. Or trying running now and then. So I did. Today a perfect blue sky, the lightest of the color blue, glided my way as I ran through the pain of losing Angie to cervical cancer.

An innocent peace flooded my heart too. This run, something I haven’t done in awhile, was the gift I needed today. I thank the heavens for opening up. Rain, the softest of drops, fell along the way, as flowers, in perfect pink colors greeted my way. I fell into a trance and listen to the queen remind me of the spirit within. I listened and watched the heavens open, surely as rain turned to tears.

The past year has been trying. Cries, led to change, which led to moving on as if death had the final say always. Within my grief, I let words lead, some I never knew was within me, some I remain in awe off. Either way, a year of grief, is slowing turning around, slowly plowing our fears, even our audacious dreams, into change I never expected. Beyond your death, beyond your cervix that had the last word, beyond even these words I write, know that you will live. Angie, you will live and as sure as I run through this rain, so shall this pain, turn around for good. Your life, even in death, will be a gift to many.

My run for today. I remember when during the pandemic, all I did was run. Here is to praying I can keep this up through pain. Amen.