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.

I needed to go through hell once to understand my worth. Hell helped me find my vision for the next years and decades of my life. From time to time, attacks will come your way, and they are like an obligation, a desire for you to know struggle. In my hell, I kept coming back to Psalm 23, kept reading and re-reading the words ‘deepest darkness.’ Looked it up in dictionary and all of this was my hell:

Extending inward, outer limits, considerable distance, difficult to comprehend, mysterious, grave, lamentable, intensely immersed, below level of consciousness, the most intense part.

Hell will make you go deep and there will be darkness all around. But then I remember the words, ‘even if and through.’ Darkness will come. Hell too. But even if they come, go through. When you find yourself extending inward, go through. At your outer limits, sail through. At a considerable distance, move through. Even if difficult to comprehend, or mysterious, grave or lamentable, still pull through. If intensely immersed, push through. Whether below the level of consciousness or at the most intense part, dig through this with the knowledge that he is with you. His rod and staff protect you.

My reasons always for going through. They me always not to be afraid.

All of them, all those that prefer you dwell in hell will see you. They will see how you remain an honored guest. See your cup overflowing. See the goodness and mercy all around you too. That’s what awaits you when you push through the darkness. I did recently and my cup continues to overflows.

Toni Morrison and her son Slade Morrison have a book about mean people I love to read to my kids. It’s my keep for today. To them, people are mean. They frown, they shout, even whisper behind peoples back. Family members are also mean. Fathers, mothers, grandparents, siblings, all of us have mean tendencies that can be confusing to children. I love this because it’s a delightful read and my kids get a kick out of it. But for all the meanness, the advice in the end is truly one to take on any life journey: smile through mean people and things. Smile through it all no matter how challenging everyday life may seem. I have been experiencing meanness lately and quite frankly, I will do as they suggested and smile anyway. Keep smiling. They dedicated this book to brave kids anywhere. Love it.

I am always mesmerized by an interview Chinua Achebe gave on NPR back in 1988. In it he told a story about a tortoise and a leopard. The leopard meets the tortoise on a lonely stretch of road. He had been trying to catch the tortoise for a long time. Tortoise, being a trickster, always found ways to escape. But on this day, he was cornered by the leopard. Even the leopard said to him, ah-ha, now I have got you. Prepare to die. Tortoise said to the leopard, can I ask for a favor, give me a short time to prepare for my death. Leopard, looked around and said, I don’t see why not. Go ahead. But instead of standing and thinking as the leopard had expected, tortoise began to dig a hole and scatter sand all over the road, throwing it in all directions. Leopard asked, what’s going on, why are you doing all of this. To which the tortoise replied: I am doing this because after I am dead, I want anyone passing by this spot and seeing all the sign of struggle on the road to say: a man and his match struggled here.

To Chinua Achebe, the moral of this is the importance of struggle. No one is going to guarantee us the outcome. Nobody is going to say if you struggle, you will succeed. It would be too simple. But if even we are not sure how it will end, whether we will succeed or not, we still have this obligation to struggle. It’s for this reason that I conclude with the following. I want my life, this blog, to be a living testimony of this struggle, whether I succeed or not.

So I see smoke everywhere.

As fire transforms to dust.

I see my people are everywhere.

These days my eyes are closed.

Finding God’s voice is all I know.

If Jabez can pray, I can do the same for blessings, for taking away pain and everything else that weighs me down.

I am a child that came for a journey.

He knows I walk miles he ordained.

Yet, I am restless these days. struggling to come up for air.

Knowing too where there is pain, there is life and dreams, and possibilities for tomorrow.

The story above was also from Chinua Achebe’s book: Anthills of the Savannah.

My son attends a school that was severely damaged by the floods that came through Saint Louis in July. Their entire basement was gutted and all the rooms they use for their sensory activities were destroyed. We started school a week later than most and had to readjust everything with classrooms now in a different location. Change is scary for us. Transitions too and the beginning of the school year is always fraught with anxiety for adjustment and routine and everything else that comes with living life on the spectrum.

Yesterday I picked my son up from school later than usual and I was struck by how calm he was. The old him would have been crying and freaking out wondering if I was coming to pick him up even if I was 5 minutes late. He hates not going home when everyone else is going home. Seeing him, calm made me feel reassured that we are going to have a great school year after all, floods, transitions and all. It’s these little things that matter for me these days. That and seeing the love the students gave back to their teachers for everything thing they have been doing for them especially now with all the change.

I am a proud mother of a child on the spectrum and seeing their humanity on display even as chalk drawing for their teachers car parking lot as a way to thank them for all they do, is my keep for today. Floods may come. Change, transitions, tossing out the old, adjusting to the new may coming along. But in all things, keep the love for the little things in mind, like chalk drawings to say thank you to others.

This is not for your feelings. Or mountains burning with fire. Or places dark and gloomy. Or unending winds and storms. Even if trembling or afraid. Smash those feelings against a rock. For this is not about you.

Rather, this is for those approaching Mount Zion. Those dwelling in the city of God. Those surrounded by thousands of angels. Those with harps singing. Those blazing like the setting sun.

This joyful gathering. This myriad of festivities. This celebration you feel cannot be shaken, cannot be moved. Not when he calls us by name.

I am in awe always of Hebrews 12: 18-24. I remember when a colleague of mine, Edmond Moukala read it at work (UNESCO days). He read it out loud with intensity. At that time, work was terrible and a group of us gathered over lunch to mediate on the word. These were some of the best moments of work. But of all our gathering, (his rendition of the Lord’s Prayer being another favorite of mine) this reading held a special place in my heart.

I still see him reading it with the conviction the words carry. You have not come with your heads bowed low. He didn’t say it this way of course, but that was always my take on it when he started. God did not create me to be small. Rather, like his child, I have approached his throne with the grace that he bestowed on me from the moment he called me. Again, my rendition but that’s what I truly feel whenever I hear this chapter and verses read. I had to make it my own in words that personify my mood these days at work.

This isn’t about you or your feelings. We live in a world full of mountains of egos. Your feelings are yours. Keep them to yourself. Rather, when you come near me, know that Mount Zion resides in me. God’s city and all that adorns it, is me. I hope you leave with the sprinkle of blessings that he showers around those he calls his own. My mood for this year. I pray this year is full of better things than the last. All because of where you have come to. Mount Zion. Those he calls by name.