There is a power that emerges when you gift yourself and your family, the simple and freeing pleasures of walking. We gave that gift to baby almost 2 days after his arrival at home. We took him for his first walk along the paths of Forest Park. The pandemic was still breathtaking in its design. Lockdown was still in full force. So too was mask wearing in all public spaces, though ignored by many by design. We wore our masks, and with a bundled up baby, we walked together along the pathways of Forest Park.

I have alway found walking to be a site of joy, pleasure too and freedom. There is an African proverb which states that ‘if you want to go fast, walk alone. But if you want to far, walk together.’ My family and I are prepared to go far. Walking for us, is and remains a site of joy, pleasure still, and freedom too.

All our being, all our senses as one family are nurtured, protected too, because we took one step forward, and another, together. There is love, affirmation, support, and freedom to see and observe things as they are, when you walk through life with others. Baby sat on his stroller oblivious to this gift. We kept giving it to him knowing the impact of our gift.

My daughter in her blue denim overalls tried to tell him about the world as we walked along Forest Park. She played I spy with her brothers, spying things they saw along the way, like something green such as all the trees and grass along the Park, or something brown like dead leaves along the path, or something blue like the clear blue skies that brighten our day as we walked along the Park. Their spying game while walking, it’s meaning and value, were never lost on me.

As we move forward in life, whether freely, or openly, we bear witness to the truth that we are never meant to walk alone. Baby’s first source of food for life, where from the milk oozing out of my body. His first bath, were from Dad’s hands, as he gently washed him with a fragrant free soap that is supposed to nourish his being from his hair follicles down to the sole of his feet. Everything we do with babies are never done in isolation. So too is walking through life.

As we crossed the bridge along the park, we stopped to take photos with baby. We gathered ourselves around baby, who laid gently in his stroller. With the sky still brightening the day with the most perfect of blues, and with heads held up, with perfect eyes smiling beneath our masks, we took a photo to capture this moment in time, a moment we first walked together with baby.

Stories of families who walk together, black families in particular, often remain within the families, often within their albums tucked neatly away, in their memories, or phones, never to see the limelight or become fully represented as something we also do. We walk, never alone, but together. Aretha Franklin once belted this as a tune. And when we walk, we gather ourselves together, hold our heads up high, and smile, whether through storms or perfect skies. We do so together, because we know, that in life, no one, not even a newborn goes through their journey alone. So get your courage together and walk on, Ms. Franklin would say. Walk through the rain, even through the storm, just know you never walk alone. It’s the perfect gift we gave to baby as a family, one that I intend to keep always.

I am compelled to write. Not often for myself, but for others. The mistakes I have made with life in academia, life as a mother, can be avoided. The lessons I have learned as a black woman in academia, a black mother, including mothering a child society labels as not being neurotypical, can be shared. For what is typical anymore? That a child would rather paint in pictures than regurgitate the same mundane lesson plans over and over. That a woman, myself, can have children and still be in academia. That I can love my job, love that it helps me interact with students, love that it forces me to keep learning, love that it enables me to continue to question the questions. The roads we all must take through life are ours to take. My journey has not been smooth. But it’s mine. And so I am compelled to write about it so you know that I am human. With flaws and imperfections, hopes and impediments. I am also a storyteller. My vehicle through life was never really about the spaces I occupy, but the stories I tell. I am learning that now. It has taken a pandemic for me to wake up to my potentials. It has taken a pandemic for me to wake up and start telling the stories that matter. Our best weapon for future pandemics is not to marshall facts but stories. Stories can be our hope and strength. A very present help for future pandemics, without which we are blind.

So I am compelled now, in this phase of my life, to write stories so we never forget people like Jazz Dixon, the first person to die from COVID in Saint Louis City where I live. She was only 31 years old and loved to bake. I am compelled to write about Jacob Plange-Rhule, my mentor and principal investigator on our ongoing research in Ghana. Covid may have robbed us of his gentle warm smile, but I am compelled to write so we never forget him. I am compelled to write about the times we forgot, 1918 to be precise. I am compelled to write about this picture below of a man and his two children. By the time Red Cross stopped by his home with food, their mother had just died. They lived in Charlotte, North Carolina. I am compelled to write about them because our history books did not even think to include their names.

From the National Archives. Red Cross brought food to this family, but for they arrived, their mother had just died. They lived in North Carolina. I’m digging to learn what I can about them. History forgot them.

I am compelled to write because we have been here before with pandemics and the shockingly sparse data on what black populations did to mobile resources, to engage in activism, to survive the pandemic. I am compelled write because unlike today, we knew back then that masks worked, social distancing too. I am compelled to write about what went wrong then with the pandemic we find ourselves in. I am compelled to write because over 500,000 deaths in the US alone, over 2 million globally, demand that we never forget that they lived. For them, I am compelled to write so we never fall into amnesia, another forgotten pandemic, another forgotten experience of racism, or inequities and their contributions to pandemics or silence, or survival with being black and female in academia. I am compelled to write so we never forget. Keep writing.