The images you have of me. Mother, researcher, doing work in far away places. All of them are true. But those that are invisible. Everything hidden, under, and in between the lines like Toni Morrison’s invisible ink, are the bones that keep me tall and erect. One day, I will leave you hoping to see just how the story unfolds. What scenery passes through my window daily or whether i truly kiss the night air. Only that it would just be the beginning of the day in which all that I am to become, everything buried deeply within me, oozes forth like an ache.

I am possible, today, tomorrow, and forever, because I know my dreams, and my dreams go on dreaming, unbroken, unfettered, unafraid. They look to rivers and mountains, parks and creeks for inspiration that some call ambitious. Then they see struggles, all sorts of strife and pain lurking by the doorway, asking if we would like to come in. We do. Falling deeply into depths we pray will not leave us powerless. Not when we know what lies within us, all that cries out to arise from these depths we find ourselves in. We do, reaching for the skies above, hoping this wasn’t a dream. Dreams are always wasted if you don’t dream again. So we do, dreaming still that what lies hidden, everything under and in between the lines, remain unbroken, unfettered, unafraid, now that we touch all that aches within us.

My presentation today went well. We need more dreamers in global health.

The night air this Monday night stirs up new feelings within me. Call it nervousness, uncertain feelings, wishing to hide underneath a blanket and wait for Wednesday night to come, when this restless hunger will fade into the night like a rapture. In search of synergy, I move with my baby, who darts in and out my room. Jump around as he jumps too. Perhaps this movement with him is what I needed most. Perhaps being together is all I need. May this movement that shows up everyday. Whether from a baby or the night air, carry you through like a talking drum, from this to that, along the road only love knows.

Being rooted in all I do is free. I know my roots. I know my struggles too. I have lived through their lessons. Freedom takes a long time. With despair and fear, and a sprinkling of failure buried deep within. I have seen darkness of what it means to work. Roots buried deep only know dark. They know too that light takes time. I am beginning to know light. Both have taken a long time that I know first hand when the rain began to fall on me. I know too that you do not talk to a horse and wait for it’s reply. Whether it’s falling rain or neighing horses, I can testify that words are not enough to describe work. Neither are sentiments on papers. Only stories will do. Only the stories, with inward testimonies, of all the ways you reconciled shattered dreams with hopeful visions will do. Now that my roots pierce deeply into the soil, I look forward to shaming the devil as I speak my truth.

Image from Lucille Clifton’s Everett Anderson’s Goodbye personifies how I feel these day. I know my roots.

Ambition to me is tied to what Ngugi wa Thiongo once described as a ‘quest for relevance.’ It is a search for a liberating perspective within which to see ourselves clearly in relationship to ourselves and to the other selves in the universe. He would go on to suggest that this question depends on the choice of material and the attitude to or interrogation of that material. How we see things, even with our own eyes, is very much dependent on where we stand in relationship to it. To him, any strong desire to achieve or do something is inherently laced with a language of struggle. And this struggle starts even from the beginning.

Sustaining global health, becoming ambitious with whatever you choose to do in this field is all about taking a leap into the land of struggle. It’s that struggle that ultimately makes you begin wherever you are, do whatever you can, to become part of the generation crazy enough to think they can change the world. I am very ambitious with global health, naming it, sharing it, so that I not only see myself clearly but work with like minded people to make the global more relevant than ever, changing how we all see it too, one story at a time. And yes, it is full of struggles, full of thinking that I can really change the world with fully-funded projects that last. How I am working to mobilize people to embrace these crazy ideas with global health is at the heart of my upcoming talk on Tuesday April 26th. It’s my hope that if you join us, you may learn ways to sustain your crazy ideas with global health, even in the midst of storms.

I have taken plenty short trips in life. But few are as unforgettable as the past 4 days in Lagos. Imagine arriving to blue skies. No soon after we arrived, even after all the chaos we encountered at the airport, I arrived to skies perfect and blue.

I entered Lagos too with clarity. Day after day, I saw myself opening up to the wonders of this place. Opening up to the young people nurturing its greatest hope. We came for them. Came to witness all they could offer for themselves and those like them. We called it PrEP4Youth. They called it life changing. And one by one I saw as young people came up with ideas of how to care for each other. Ideas for girls without hope and boys out of hope. I saw how they told stories of themselves, told stories of their peers and dreamed of ways they could all live in a land where the skies remained perfect and blue. I kept saying nothing about you without you. They kept showing nothing for them without them. For where they come from, their is no need to ignore them, no need to divide them into those that receive or complete, no need to act as if they cannot lead things for themselves. The past four days left moments of joy, from teams exceptional and finesse, from youths thinking outside the box, in red shirts, or green shirts, braided hair, or faded cuts, Godswill, or rising up again. I saw all this and more with fullness for tomorrow. Nothing about young people without young people. Nothing about people without people. This is the change they want.

If you want to decolonize anything, start by stepping out of the way. Then proceed with this mantra, ‘it is not about you.’ Nothing for people, communities, health systems, anyone, without them. Some may write papers on this, some may even have stories to tell. I saw first hand in Lagos, the need to step out of the way, so people themselves tell their own stories. This is why I firmly believe and will continue to do my best to ensure that we are all storytellers. No degree or peer-reviewed journals required. Just come as you are. I am on a mission to build platforms for storytellers in health who dare to dream.

To lead, when one has never led, is courageous. Risky and daring, but with courage. To see it’s outcomes, it’s possibilities, so rich, is divine. To know that I lead this, keeps me on my knees. I am nothing but the grace of God and so full of thanks today for the risk, for daring and for leading courageously.

While watching WAHL street recently, I heard top pioneers in entrepreneurship share the following: ‘Are you prepared to put the work in and honor what you don’t know. Believe in your self. Believe in your idea and dive in head first. People love to tell you what you can’t you. Because they don’t want you to win. That has to drive you.’

These words personify my 72hour weekend in Lagos, Nigeria as part of the 4youth by youth 3rd Designathon focused on youth-led strategies for PrEP. I listened and watched as young Nigerians put in the work to honor what they didn’t know. I saw them believe in themselves, believe in their ideas too. I marveled as they dived in head first, to think outside the box for their ideas. I was impressed with their drive overall and all the work they did.

Today, 15 teams came together to pitch their ideas. Of course many wanted to do mobile apps, but there were board games, ideas focused on settings based ambassadors, awareness based strategies using local groups and pharmacist based ideas. We were awed, moved, inspired to see what 72 hours can do. They surprised me, elevated me, and made me feel thankful that I get to call this work. It’s more than work, more than me, this platform that I can’t believe I lead. I can’t believe how I got here too. I told that to the first team that pitched and well didn’t adhere to the 5 minute rule. They seemed dejected that their time was up before they could finish sharing ideas. I saw the look in their eyes and felt that look for myself. I have been rejected so many times. Cut off too before I could articulate my ideas. My ideas no matter how well I drafted them have also failed. I told them it took close to 30 failures to get here. If I am quiet, if am not busy or seem amazed and looking, it because I can’t believe we are here. I can’t believe I get to lead this. I know failure all too well and I encourage them to not let it get to there. There are lessons in failure worth celebrating. Hold on to it as it’s more valuable than winning. I am a living testimony. They smiled I went back to my seat, still looking in amazement that I get to lead this.

I have no idea what may come next. We have one more year of this project. But if this is all I get to lead, I am grateful. Bill and Sonia, thank you for taking a chance on me. Joe and Oliver, this was our first venture together. We were strangers when all this began and to think we end as family keeps me speechless. Thank you both for believing in me when I had no idea what I too was pitching to you. Chisom and Titi, we are of course nothing without you, thank you for leading all the way with clarity and ease and light. Isioma, well you know the beginning. This is still only the beginning and so much more is yet to come. Thank you for being in my corner always. Everyone at NIMR, so many of your from Dr Musa, Oladele, David, MMartins, Ifeoma, Nurudeen, David, Naco, I know I will miss so many other names, but thank you. Ucheoma, well you know the failures, thank you for going through them to also witness the success, you are truly a gem. Amanda and Alexis, you too capture my passion in ways words often fail me. Thank you for believing and seeing so much more in me. All the 4YBY team, all our youth ambassadors, all our judges, all that passed through us from the beginning, my mouth is speechless so I will pray. God alone knows the plans for you and I use this space to say they are good. Thank you for believing in me, when I never knew where to begin. Dr. Afadapa, we go way back. Thank you for your love and friendship. Drs. Airhihenbuwa, Ogedegbe, Conserve, Belue, Katie and Nora, Khadijah and so many others within ITEST, CCHUB, Pinpoint Media team, Chris, all of you that made all this happen, thank you.

Last but not least my family. Zobam, none of this is possible without you. I am only stronger because you saw greater things in me. Love you beyond us. I bless God too for us. My children, my better me, love you all and thank you for being patient all these years as mummy traveled for work. Mama, without you, none of this can happen. Thank you for taking care of all of us. My brothers and sisters, my in-laws, Chukwuma, Yusuf, you all have been my support and I know my words may never be enough. Thank you. 4 youth by youth to the world. This is just the beginning. Watch us now roar as we pave the way to greatness. As always. The lessons of failure are me and through this project, I can see it’s grace too.

April 8th

The scene was full of brilliance. Young people answering to their names. They see their light. They know their season too. This is it. See them rise, past all expected. Entering their destiny without error. Standing in rooms they own. Full of grace for all they know. Blooming on their own, like a promise made to flowers. Nothing about them without them they say. We have been patient for too long, they note. It’s our future after all, they share. See as we illuminate it our way, they finish. We stand, saying nothing all. Nothing we say matters. Not when their clouds are full of rain. Not when we watch them think outside the box.

I am overwhelmed and tired. Trying to stay focused but exhausted. I feel like I am running a race that never ends. I want it to end, but I keep running. There will be days like this I am told. Today is one of those days, I see. Nothing brilliant to say expect that all I need right now is rest. This maybe the most brilliant thought I have held all day.

I hear you are very persistent. Prone to reinvade even when removed. I hear you are highly resilient. Thick dense branches push out others who compete with you for water, soil, space, sun. I hear some call you invasive. Birds love your fruit, spread your seeds and you rise up unbidden again. But I see you bloom in spring. Early spring in clusters of white rounded flowers that stay close together. Like us. We may be persistent, resilient, invasive even, but still, like callery trees, we stay close together, blooming together.

They past week has been rough. Tough too for multiple reasons. I persisted though. Became resilient for what I knew was coming. In the end, many will not understand. Some may question commitment. All I can say is that Spring is my season. And the plans he has in store for me requires that I persist, remain resilient and become invasive. We are literally on the cusp of changing the world. And all of that like being a callery pear tree is required.

Our Callery Pear Tree is starting to bloom.

‘My mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.’ Adrienne Rich.

I need to reach you with words. To make words that I use touch whatever site of joy or suffering you find yourself in. I find myself doing so with language that isn’t mine. Language that may not touch you. Yet I need to reach you.

I think about these words often when I find myself in circles where people espouse their authority over anything. Forgetting even their authority may or may not still be accessible to people. I realize we can touch people with the works of our minds, with our words too. But yet, even the language we use may not be accessible to people. Of course we can make language and our work do what it is supposed to do. Or we can take the oppressors language and turn it over its head. It’s something that I have been toying with. Liberating my self in language. Choosing to close this with no wahala. I go change how I speak to una one day.