In today’s America, Black girls are an endangered species. Often times their humanity whether on display or not, for themselves or things as insignificant as flies, are ignored, denied, our outright destroyed. Many also fail to see the light they carry, chose to resist their light, or work to diminish their light. Such was the case of Bobbi, a little girl in NJ whose neighbor choose to report her to authorities rather than see the goodness of her humanity. Rather than giving him the the last word, I wrote the following to celebrate her worth and all those that celebrated her essence like what Dr. Ijeoma Opara did to make her dazzle over at Yale yesterday. Keep these musings for Black girls like Bobbi.
I imagine the world would be kind to girls like you. I Imagine they would treat you better than flies. Be it house or lantern flies. I imagine they would see you too. Know you and learn about what makes you smile in the morning or laugh in the middle of a movie night. I imagine they would care for you the same way they care for trees, or trash or neighbors or anything else with humanity they see. I imagine all this for you in a world large enough for you and them. But then, I remember that betrayal is their arch nemesis, while you are still the rim of the world, light’s very own genesis.
Everything about you is so clear, that you shine like stars with an aura so rare. No wonder they choose to dim your divinity. Yet, still you shine and through your diligence, you showcase the best of our humanity. You are truly the apex of our times for eyes still blind to the sincerity of our lives even for flies that tried to diminish the peculiarity of your light. So we keep imagining this for them and ourselves. That one day, somewhere, girls and women, dark like you, even those unlike you, will come together in a common desire for the best of our humanity for the sake of our collective prosperity. They will see and no longer be blind to your rarity. They will learn and no longer be in dark to your luminosity. That all things bright and beautiful, those dark like night and diligent in all things whether for lives or flies, whatever we choose to do, will be met with the same love you displayed for the best of our humanity.
This is my hope for all girls and women dark like you, myself included. Otherwise, keep displaying your light with severity. Let their eyes endure your shine till infinity or their obscurity. Either way, show them what it means to be the dawn, so profound, that they shiver at the sight of your light so full. With all my love.
Keep these musings in celebration for all Black girls like Bobbi.
Nikki Giovanni has a poem called quilts. I read it in her poems and prose book ‘Make me Rain.’ The title first of all is a blessing in disguise, for those hungry to let words flow like raindrops on a cloudy day. Quilts as described by Ms Giovanni to me is like a fast-flowing river. Nothing seems to get in its way. Not the source which begins a river or the path through which it flows. All of it are connected to make a river flow. So too are quilts. Every single piece used to make a quilt is sewn together by design, is put together with love, lots of love too.
I have been thinking lately about the quilts that make me whole, every single piece that comes together to create all that I become. My life quilt is also like a river, with every single piece, a source of energy that shapes and form, all that I become. These pieces connect at a point, connect through hard hurdles and constant strife to tell our story. In the middle where we connect, in the middle where we intersect over tiny threads that meander back and forth, back and forth, through more hard hurdles, and painful strifes, in that middle, our greatest strides are taken, our greatest acts, created, as we become all that makes quilts precious. These unseen component of our connections, the untold stories of our flow, may very well be the reason we are built like rivers. And like rivers, may we continue to flow in love, grow in love, one piece at a time, one quilt at a time. Keep flowing like rivers, loving like quilts.
We become light by choosing it. Whether or not we are surrounded by darkness or not, whether or not others share or are indifferent to our light, whether we are open or closed to the idea of becoming light, all the possibilities and hurdles light entails becomes ours when we choose this path. It can be a gloomy path too. One where your light is bound to fall, on spaces that leave behind scars, no matter how hard you try to place it above stars.
I have been reading the memoir of Lucille Clifton, with an introduction by Tracy Smith where she described Lucille’s namesake Lucifer. Did you know he was once described as God’s bringer of light. Even the devil brought light, and fell along the way. Even this once bright morning star, he who was determined to climb up to heaven, determined to place his throne above the highest stars, determined to climb to the top of the clouds, determined to even be like the Almighty, was also brought down to the world of the dead, brought down and became known as the devil himself.
Which made me realize that there is light. There is light for the living, for the dead, and even the devil. There is light for anyone who chooses it if only our hearts are open, our minds receptive, as our light shake and tremble the earth. With rays that burrow deeply into our souls, twitching our body as it quivers in space, light can become yours. Generations by Lucille Clifton is teaching me this. I now know in my soul, see in my goals. how light is creeping in, invading all my spaces, evading all my phases, many once laced in a futile dread, many now faced the sweetest grace. I was once lost, but now I know my light. I arch my back as I contemplate it’s infinity. I also watch as it conspires to keep me from falling, keep me from reaching heaven. And though the devil succeeds, with every fall I take, I still know my light, and my light knows me.
Lucile Clifton once shared, how our lives are a circular stair. It keeps turning through time. To know why, we circle the world and back, one year after the other, is to know light.
I am flooded by the brilliance of light. A majestic ray, that blooms, past the very speed of itself. The very speed of light. Something inside is open, and as present as the very air we breath. Something inside is on fire, it’s flames engulfing this air, I breathe. To know light, is to turn in circles. A never ending spiral of circles, that keeps turning and turning till no end. A spiral of light, that keeps shining and shining with no end. The reason I speak of light, is for you to see what happens when eyes are wide open. Depths too, are wide open. Brilliance is pouring in. Light is pouring out. I am becoming my wildest dreams. Seeing all this illumination within. Makes me look to the mountains above. The one who made heaven and earth. Helps me rise to a light above. I am like an eagle that soars, like an eagle that soars to the skies, an eagle that soars with words to the skies. And light is leading me all the way.
The kids were jumping on the trampoline. I was amazed by how far we have come. Baby was strolling gingerly towards them and away from them, in his yellow green shirt that read how he was a ‘little man with big plans.’ He truly was. Today’s plans, dirt and all sorts of ways to become one with dirt. Dreams of one day jumping on the trampoline too we’re on his mind. On this first day of Fall, in the second year of a pandemic that ceases to end, I am sitting here staring at how far my family and I have come. Baby is still walking back and forth towards his siblings jumping on a trampoline and away from them. A cool breeze, so gentle like a baby’s kiss, gently kisses my face this evening. Everything seems sterling to me. The green of the grass. The blue of skies. Even the white of clouds have a certain aura to them that personifies my aura these days. I am walking in light and there is no turning back. My mother-in law spent her days during the early parts of summer tending to a garden. It was also her way of coping with the illness of her only daughter that would come to do consume our entire summer. Today I stared deeply at how her garden continues to flourish, continues to remain glorious, even in her absence. Angie would have been proud of her. Angie would have loved her light.
We all know light when we see it. Light is peace. It is peace for the mother, the wife, the teacher, the daughter, the sibling, the awakened public, suddenly rising from their comatose state. Luminescent, incandescent, glistening, hers, that glow with a light within are trouble for tortured souls, trouble for those who prefer chaos. And the world is a chaotic place, violent place too, for those rearing and resting in darkness, sly racists too who prefer their structural violence rather than the power of roaring lioness. Still, like a lioness, I choose light for its aura, it’s brilliance, it’s chink, it’s dazzle, it’s ethereal, it’s fire, it’s gleamer, it’s halo, it’s illumination, it’s jewel, it’s kindle, it’s luminosity, it’s morn, it’s nature, it’s optical, it’s prism, it’s queer, it’s radiance, it’s spark, it’s twinkle, it’s upbeat, it’s vividness, it’s wave, it’s x-factor, it’s yellow, it’s zenith. Certain openings for light visited on people are so blazing, so lustrous, so airy, so zestful, so effortless that it must be protected at all cost. It’s not a gift. It’s a necessity. For a city, a people, built on light cannot be hidden. Blaze your light and keep it too at all cost.
I have been writing and deleting the start of an imaginary book yet unwritten. As if afraid to walk into my moonlight. Yet, fear is the last thing on my mind. So I keep writing. I call it ‘Black Mom Light.’ A coming-of age memoir for rising as a black mom from darkness to light. An anti-racist memoir on being a black mother in today’s America. I also call it ‘Brown Mom Listing.’ The second name is from Jacqueline Woodson ephemeral memoir in verse, ‘Brown Girl Dreaming.’ If her memoir were full of poems that were profound and moving, mine, are full of lists, a keep list, equally profound and captivating. I am obsessed with the style of her book that it inspired name number 2. I imagine my keeplists, what you read here every day as listing or the act of putting words, or stories into lists to keep. I also envision them as being focused on what truly matters and keeping that for myself, for yourself, for my people, for your people, for humanity. These lists span my days like a wide bridge, wild butterflies too, forever ready to spread their wings and fly, forever ready to move to new heights, to new places, so many wonders to see, in the words of my daughter, my forever muse.
The thought of what to keep, what to list each given day is a treasure for each passing day. They give me strength for days when none is left. They help me attend to other things too, like my other obsession, grant writing. Every lists carries my heart and my thoughts to somewhere. Maybe flowers. They are also my forever muse , forever brilliant, forever of use. Maybe trees. I have no names for all I see, but they too help me attend to all I need to do. Tall luscious trees and their graceful abundance are bound to make you dance as the make me dance. Maybe my children. My forever muse. Not a day goes by without being caught in their spell, their wants, their blissful gifts, that lift to new abyss. But hidden at the root of all I choose to keep is a desire for legacy, for light, for rising above what society says we should or must do as parents, as professors, as people. Yet for every thing I keep, there are some I still don’t share here. Some written even at the same time. Like the one written right before I shared this one. Those ones are part of what I describe as my extraordinary lists. We are all extraordinary people in the end. No one else exists as me, with thoughts like mine. I would rather I live life in extraordinary ways than ways destined to be ordinary. I wasn’t made of ordinary. So this list is my attempt at that. One keep at a time. The destination remains unknown. We are moving beyond the rigidness of your vision. If this is our first meeting. Welcome. The vision for this keeplist is extraordinary. Every list is in place of the vision society may have for women like me. A keep of sorts, of conversations we are not having, of refusals to be silent. This woman maybe black or brown. But her voice is shrouded in light and with each day, she walks out into moonlight to touch her power.
I asked myself today, a question most mothers ask themselves everyday. How the hell do you do this? Today was the first time in close to three weeks I had a day to myself. Not an entire day, more like four hours for me. I have been running a nonstop marathon even with kids in school. A little after they all went back to school in mid August, they all became sick, one after the other. We thought it was Covid, took a test and it wasn’t. Just a nasty viral bug that meant sleepless nights and restless days. It all finally cleared up over the weekend and today, even my one year old went back to daycare. Just as I left his daycare, I took a deep breath and asked myself those seven letter words, that many mothers ponder everyday. My eyes immediately greeted Dahlia’s planted outside the daycare. A symbol of best wishes. It was as if it wanted to offer some to me. To wish me well at this moment I called my own. How does it swirl in this way I asked, with finely carved petals, that hang together neatly, as if painted by hand. I stopped and stared at them for a brief moment, took in the air and said a little thank you. How the hell do I do it? By his grace. His sheer grace. I am nothing on my own. I shudder to think that I can go through life on my own. We are not meant to do this thing called life alone. That’s how I do it. By his grace and it’s truly sufficient for me.
They call it an eloquent flower. A flower full of eloquence. Poems have been written about it. One by Cummings who described it as love, and how it’s love moves with brightness to all places. We noticed it on a walk this week with by baby. I rarely go for walks these days, but something about the group of people I have been interacting with all week, made me seek air and the sun and light. I see a lot better when I walk. I also reflect better and say prayers of thanksgiving during long walks. I owed my maker one, hence the walk to just reflect on the journey so far, the insights so far and all the people I have met along the way so far. It shouldn’t be this easy, I kept saying. It shouldn’t be that we tell the stories of our why over and over again, almost to infinity and everyone we speak to gets it over and over again. So a walk was due. I need to check my blind spots, to stay humble, to listen and see the world once more for there are truly so many wonders to see, on long walks. Infinity stories being on my mind.
For this walk, our eyes were greeted by Crepe Myrtles. Their bright pink colors were hard to miss. They stood out amidst a row of green short and tall shrubs. I initially ignored them at first and kept walking. It has been a while since I walked and so I was focused. But the colors kept greeting my eyes, as if to say hello. Finally, I gave in and greeted the flower back. I smelt it as always and opened my app to learn a bit more. I have shared in prior posts how I have lived blindly through life not knowing one flower from the next. But since I started to walk in light, all sorts of flowers have become my friends. Crepe Myrtle is about to be my best friend.
Not only are it’s beautiful lush flowers appealing, but per my app, this flower is a symbol of eloquence, good luck too. I was in awe and grew closer to see why. In full bloom, it’s flower petals appear wrinkled but full of rich texture that produce brilliant crumbling spiral patterns. These spirals gather together like a crepe, hence the name Crepe Myrtle. But eloquence don’t stop with the flowers alone. Soon, the flowers will fall and it’s leaves will turn glorious gold, orange, red and purple in fall before falling off. Then, it’s bark completes this flower’s trifecta. The bark on many Crepe Myrtle peels in puzzle patterns to reveal smooth cinnamon or tan colors that glow during winter. All of this combined, helps to symbolize Crepe Myrtle’s eloquence. They also help to tell my never ending keeplist of stories of becoming a mom in light. An infinity story in the making.
On the surface, everything seems fine. A family that I am blessed to call my own for all the love, support and gifts of belonging they provide to me. A job that I am grateful to carve as I want, grateful for when things stay and last or fall off as with passing of time or even failed grant attempts. But when you peel my surface, when you come with me and feel my journey, even peel all my outer layers, then you will understand what rounds my trifecta. I am just coming to terms with it. I am a storyteller in all sense of the word. It’s where I get my eloquence, my reason for being, my persistence, my tenacity, my love, even my drive with life. Every single thing I do has a story connected to it.
Being a mother for example, one of my greatest stories ever told, one some of you may read here on a daily basis. The stories around how me and my greatest joy, my Zobam met and continue to journey through this life keeps me on my knees with gratitude to my maker. He truly saved me. Then there are the stories for how I have navigated pursuing a career in research. To think you can go to school to become a researcher seems unheard of but that’s how I earned my degree at the end for the day. I was literally trained to become a researcher from undergrad even, not in grad school. I owe it to Dr. Cassandra Veney, my very first mentor in undergrad who inspired me to probe deeply too during my days as a McNair scholar. Then of course there their stories from grad schools. Trip to Senegal all paid for by my department, just to get to Senegal and I don’t have a hotel room and I barely spoke French or Wolof. Yet, this trip would forever change me life and inspire me to be a a global health researcher passionate about seeing the world and working with people whether I spoke their language or not.
Then there are the malaria dissertation stories. Even the process of writing my first NIH grant to do this work under the guidance of my doctoral advisor Dr Collins Airhihenbuwa has a story worthy of praises for how he pushed me to become enamored by grantwriting. How I got my first job in Paris at UNESCO following graduation has a story. UNESCO itself has a story I have yet to tell but it shaped my resolve for sustainability. How I worked or lived in Paris for 2+ years has a story. Do you know what it’s like to navigate owning an apartment in a place where you barely speak the language or raising a new baby, my Belle with my mother in-law whom I met for the first time at CDG airport in Paris? The stories are out of this world.
Of course there was a growing young family at that time navigating long distance. We have stories to tell. The ones with my first job upon my return to the US are cringe worthy whenever I think about them. They tried, boy they tried to destroy me but little did they know that greater is he. Then there are the stories of how I mastered grant writing from the king himself, Dr Gbenga Ogedegbe. I owe him a lot for showing me things I never even knew existed within me. Or how I met my partner extraordinaire Dr. Joe Tucker. He is truly on another level when it comes to collaboration. Find your partner with research and you literally find heaven. This blog has been privy to stories of navigating a child on the spectrum and raising black children in America. Even cancer’s sting is now a story I intend to tell fully with all my might.
The eloquence of crepe myrtle personifies my life fully. I choose to live it out now, more brilliantly like never before, more brightly too like an infinity story. These stories are my light. Through light, I will move eloquently, one story at a time, to all places. I am a storyteller and I am inspired by the endless eloquence of Crepe Myrtles.
They were on the floor. All three brothers, head to head. Sister was in the room with her piano teacher Ms. Neva mastering the twinkling star, wondering what it was. I looked at the boys wondering why the floor. They rolled around and around, laughing and smiling away. Shining brightly too like rare diamonds on the ground. They twisted and turned, and twisted some more, oblivious to the dirt all around them, oblivious to the sounds of my pleas too. The ground was all they wanted. Getting up from it was all I wanted.
So I tried to pull them up from the ground, one by one. They all went back to the ground after each successful attempt. I kept pulling them away, trying not to lose my temper or my mind. I was afraid of the ground, afraid they would hurt themselves, afraid that they too would hurt the ground. The carpet was light brown. They are children, boys too. I hate dirt on carpets, on lightly colored ones, or any colorless one. They love dirt, big or bright, dark or small. Any that will make you curse under your breath. It’s the reason why we have no carpets in our home. We just removed the beige ones that came with the home we bought. The carpet lasted 20 years or so prior to our ownership. With us, my boys and their love for red volcanic experiments or any colorful merriment, it lasted 2 days.
Carpets aside, we are still in a pandemic. If you believe the virus is airborne, then chances are that no child should lay on the ground. Yet, my boys adored the ground. Laid on it too, like it was the finest of cottons. After my pleas to get up fell on deaf ears, I paused and looked at them, looked at the ground too with intent. I took in the moment, took in the laughter, took in the love fully on display. No wonder they were oblivious to my pleas. In life, we will pass through dirt, we may be on the ground too with dirt. Diamonds are all the time. But still, we can shine brightly even in the middle of all the dirt around us.
My boys taught me that, rolling and laughing on the ground. They call it black boy joy. I call it love. To see it on full display among boys oblivious to the dirt around them, oblivious to the ground, oblivious to the world, is breathtakingly magical. We need more love. Here, they are oblivious to the world. Here, they have defeated the world. Here, they have rolled away the ground. Here, they choose to listen to their laughter, listen to joyful sound. Here, they returned back to dirt, return back to earth. Here, they uncovered the beginning of knowledge. Here they use it to teach the power of love, the power of being loved. Here, they love, love and love, loves them too. Here, they love being together, laughing together too, even on the ground with dirt all around. Here, they love those around them, each other and that is all that matters. I will cherish this keep.