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.
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 hard 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.
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.
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 remember her smile like it was yesterday. She always smiled. She was tall and very beautiful. The look on her eyes was like paradise, always mesmerizing, always kind, always tender, always love. Her name was Selena and she was loved by so many. I share her story today, not to grumble, but as a reminder that research for me is people. The passion I feel for research has names and faces that I dare not forget and her story was my first experience at mental health trauma, turned domestic violence, turned suicide. We watched this in real time. We tolerated it too, with assumptions that it would go away over time. Selena’s life was cut short by someone else’s mental health issues and we are left to wonder, what more could’ve we have done.
So I write today, as a reminder that the world is truly an unkind place, people are dealing with a lot, and the familiar can be life threatening. My own awareness of being a researcher and experiencing the ramifications of what happens when evidence is not translated in real world settings is of interest to me. It may seem like we can never help everyone, I know. It may seem like research is uncaring, I know. It may also feel like we are only in it for ourselves. I know too, and agree that there are miles to go before research can truly be for the people. But we can try. I am convinced that if we do our part to ensure that evidence-based research is translated to real-world settings, then there would be no more stories like that of Selena and I would be celebrating her light, her life today and not reminiscing on all that life took from us. So it’s vital for me to write this to remind all of us that research is people and we should care for it, be vigilant and do all in our power to ensure that it remains that way. I also love and miss you Selena and may your soul continue to sleep in God’s bosom. Amen
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.
In a little over a year, now, our life as we knew it came tumbling down. We called her Angie or Angi and to know her was to know life. I am reminded again, that death should never have the final say. Not when those alive can continue the story of a live well lived. One that became a blessing, a symbol of persistence, and collaboration laced with empathy, though the pain of loss of her physical presence lingers. Since her death, I have been writing notes to her. I wrote other things too, like grants and stories and everything that would enable the pain to lessen. Yesterday, I submitted the 4th grant in her memory.
Cervical cancer came knocking furiously at my door in the summer of 2021 and since then I have been answering the call. Two things are clear to me: No woman should die from cervical cancer. And we must eliminate it period. It helps that there are polices for elimination. The 90-70-90 strategy for example which calls for 90% of girls vaccinated, 70% of women screened and 90% of women with positive results linked to treatment. The fact that such a policy with evidence-based tools exists infuriates me. The fact that we also know what to do about cervical cancer also makes me angry. Her death could have been prevented. I get it now. It’s the reason why I keep writing anything that would make her living more memorable.
I personally bear responsibility for her death, blame too. I could have asked more questions, checked in more often and maybe, she would have disclosed this in passing. I will never know why she kept this as a secret, not just from me but her mother. I will never know why she didn’t trust the health system long enough to truly take all the symptoms she was experiencing seriously. I only have questions, many that I know I will never have answers for now that she is gone. But for tomorrow and, beyond, I am willing to begin with trust, will to begin with listening, willing to learn and hopefully willing to work with any one to lead a concrete and path-breaking strategy focused on cervical cancer elimination. I expect the struggle to come. Many have warned us of it. But I close with this, at least generations will know we struggled, we did it our way too, so no woman would die from something so preventable. I have been dreading writing anything on the one year anniversary of your passing Angi. Dreading it because I’ll rather hear you say my name or ask about the kids or just simply chat about makeup or anything else your heart desires. So these little notes are all I have with the hope that someday, someone will asked how you died and I will be quick to say, ooh but you lived. You lived.
Note on desire:
A long desire. To see and be. Another encounter. Longer than the first. Two eyes locked. Or lips talked. These notes are for you. Though dead but living. Something tried. Your cervix, a thing. Follow its form. Learn it’s lines. Then see you. It takes a long time to see. Even longer to be.
Note on Something so small:
They need to know your name. Not the way you died. Not the cervix that caused you to die. Not the pain we fail to hide. Not the tears we still shed inside. About how something so small, can kill an Angel with all its might.
Note on Seed:
I will find you again. Not like a stalk , but a seed. Death is undeserving of you. Life resembles a birds foot. Only that we chose to soar, choose to fly above the pain your cervix caused. We know pain. But we also know life. And return to you not with fury, but with force, not when your death planted this seed.
Note on She lived:
I imagine someone will ask one day, how did Angi die? I will remind them again, of how she lived. How in life, she personified all our hopes and vision. For a better recognition of what the public envisions. For their health, like their life. We will neither reject nor denounce her cervix. Not when it reminds us to be careful. Reminds us to remember the power of endless beginnings. Reminds us to bear a responsibility to something. Or one day someone will ask the same question, wanting to know too, how we died or lived.
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.
My dreams keep dreaming. As if no ending is allowed. As if only poetry will do. As if all the alternating stress, those that pass unknown, those things light and heavy I embrace, everything they bring, like air, are worthy, profound, like breathing, this air of new dreams again.
And so we hurry, back to our sweet spot again. Only this time without force again. Back to our sleek covers again. Those soft and flurry. Those blue like skies and light like stars. All of them keen on letting us go. Keen on starting this journey again. Keen on making our dreams take meaning, again and again, like the sound of the winds blowing, like the murmurs of leaves blowing. Our hearts are full and glowing. Our dreams keep birthing new dreams again. I keep marching steadily to this beat again.
It’s only the second week of the second month of this new school year and already, I feel blessed. To think that my bold ideas are going to come to light soon, with funding too, keeps me on my toes and dreaming. The same day I got news for another one, well, we submitted another one. We can’t stop now, not when he calls us, not when he leads and we follow. My story is one David and Goliath in the making. I came across failed applications to university positions I applied to years ago. Back when I thought all I had to do was apply, all I had to do was try, and somehow, life would make sense. There were some places I dared not look into, an application for a position at Dartmouth comes to mind. There were some I thought I would get. Teacher’s College, was one I thought would make the Big Apple my oasis. Of course, there were many I didn’t get. I read all of them with vigor again, just in awe of what I envisioned for my career and hoped that some one, would take a chance on me. Many didn’t. But we kept dreaming.
Then I remembered all the grants I once wrote dreaming for a career in research, dreaming to one day do it my way. Many also failed. But what brings these 2 memories for me today is this ideas of dreams. My imaginations for health are wild and often not mainstream. I was never supposed to be in academia. It wasn’t the plan. I was supposed to be a medical doctor and lawyer and somehow cook food and well write fiction books. I gave up on medicine early, didn’t get into the law school I wanted (I really took the LSAT and applied), tried to cook my way through my dissertation and failed and still waiting for the day I call myself a fiction writer. None of the initial dreams I had for myself panned out, and so I did what was next best, dreaming with no end in sight.
I know it’s grace and I do not take this gift of writing grants lightly. I still don’t know how I will present it to the world, how I will reach folks too with simple strategies that allow me to keep writing and writing especially when the call speaks to my heart. I don’t write all the time and I do pass many that though tempting are not for me. But the ones I write, like the one I submitted today, keeps me speechless. There is a pattern to grant writing. I am learning that every day. There is an intake period, with key words from the call, that allow you to get into a zone. Once there, once you have a vision, once all the intersections and roadblocks are somewhat clear, once you know your collaborators and for me, your plans to execute something unbreakable and reliably yours, then you are on your way. All of this should also include plans to endure your dreams no matter the highs and lows, the periods of giving up and the periods of trying again. I call this finding your vice. I am open to whatever direction this takes me. Like the moon we saw tonight while driving home. My son asked if the moon would follow us home. I said yes. Like dreams they follow us everywhere. Like the moon, I am following my dreams. I know my vice. These days, I am full.
I went to a gathering today, to see how people that worked like me, celebrated their highs and light, rejoiced in the success of others, and smiled because we worked. I left knowing, that work is work. But can be more, like light, when it is not hidden, when it is surrounded by people who celebrate like you.