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.

When a woman dies, and her cervix is to blame, catapulting her from the prime of her life, to her grave, what remains as a witness to her life, her stories, her cervix, her silenced voice? Who will resuscitate a life cut down by cervix?

Still sitting here contemplating why women die from cervical cancer? Image from Lucille Clifton.

As I watch my life story slowly change, with cervical cancer elimination, our next attempt at putting the public first in public health, so many questions remain. I look forward to all the struggles and hope ahead on this journey.

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.

Some many fists are clenched and coming after cervical cancer (imagery from bell hooks). Thank you to a formidable and diverse team that got me through this last year. Our story keeps unfolding in ways only grace personifies.

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 son drew a picture of himself at school today. He was dressed in a blue cape and black pants. I asked if he was inspired by Sonic the Hedgehog given similarities in the shade of blue. He shared that it wasn’t but rather it was a picture of him with a cape full of precious jewels. There were nine of them scattered all over his cape and in all shades of colors from green to blue, brown to black and pink. I asked why jewels and not something else. He noted because jewels are his favorite rocks and he wanted to draw something he loved that was close to his heart. He is only five. This image is my keep for today as it’s a reminder to keep what you love, close to your heart.

For my son it’s jewels. They come in all shapes and colors but they are nevertheless precious to him and worth keeping close to his heart even if in the form of a cape. For me, these days it’s anything that allows me to serve, like my love for grant writing. Commitment to writing grants is a commitment to service. I rarely write grants for the glory. Sure the accolades are nice when they come. But more than anything, this idea of a grant being in service to others is what’s close to my heart. I don’t do it for the reward. The sleep at the end of sleepless nights are much better. I’m also not interested in whether it becomes an icing on the cake for my academic career or not, none of that is important. What moves me instead, is whether any of the grants I write can be of service to others.

I also expect them to fail and the failed ones are just as significant for the insights they add that in my opinion are often not ready to be judged by reviewers, but yet powerful. Imagine a sustainable marketplace for HIV prevention or defining what implementation success entails or even a sustainability scale for resource limited settings. Yes, those are some title of ideas in service of others that may never come to life but they continue to inspire me even though they failed.

My grants then for me are a site of service. It’s my most innovative, my most pioneering and often my most audacious work and to think that I do it for others, keeps me grounded. It’s that notion that allows me to juggle one grant at least every other month. The irony is that I may seem like I’m not busy. Kids will take up all my time, but wait till I get a vision for a grant in service to others with a deadline, and we’ll it will be written in a week or two. It won’t be perfect as then the editing begins, but they will have something close that will make editing either seamless or painful. Commitment to writing grants in this way is often not successful. It’s a competition after all and may the best grants win. Plus even if it fails, there is always another deadline and a commitment to make the grant better all because of the people it’s originally in service for.

I expect my grants to always be at odds with what mainstream folks want and well when you subscribe first to service, expect your grants to seek first to challenge and change anything the dominant ideology suggests should be the norm. It won’t be easy, but writing in this ways helps me to remain accountable to those that matter. It also opens my heart and mind to conditions that allow us to last beyond one or 5 years, conditions that honor what matters to you, conditions I keep close to my heart always, just like my son and his jewel covered cape. I will never dominate whether the grants succeed or fail. It was never the intent. Rather, with each success or failure, I look forward to asking the question over and over again; how can a grant be of service to you? These are the things I keep close to my heart with grant writing, like a set of jewel covered cape.

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.

Why do what we do? Why get in the game even if you don’t know how to play? My answer is simple. If your know your vision, nothing will ever get in your way. And my vision is bigger than me. What you think you see or know about what I do is only 30%. What you don’t see until time is another 70%. Sensible people keep quiet about what they know. I am learning that every day. I never start a journey because I expect it to be easy. I never start one unless the plans are bigger than me. If I am not dreaming, then I am not living. And even when it seems like a dream has come through, I am like a blue ocean that refuses to be still.

So what do I want out of this path I find myself in called public health, more. That’s it. The late Kobe Bryant in his commercial with Kanye West acted this best. I really want more. More grants and all that it takes to succeed or fail in them. More stories too about how you even begin to write them. Of what use is public health if you don’t master the oppressors language and use it for good. Grant writing is me doing what Lorraine Hansberry asked that those young, gifted and black do with all the gifts the have: Write to a point.

I am writing to a point with each grant I write and yea prepared to fail too. Of what use also is research or anything we do in public health without funding. Entrepreneurs never start a business without funding. Churches never go a Sunday service without asking for offerings. How much less public health? It is so much bigger than the papers we write. So much bigger than requests for papers or all the variants advertised about them these days. Which is why I am in the business of ensuring that everything I do in the field begins with the funds in mind.

My vision is to do great work that impacts lives and lasts. I am calling it an ILL (Impact Lives & Last) vision these days because it will need lots and lots of funding. That is why I always begin with grants. Begin to with the process of perfecting the art of writing one. The public deserves this. I will never underestimate the hard work it takes to write one. But when you remember your vision, you keep writing and perfecting the art to a point. Even when the public sees the 30% of the outputs of any grants I write, understand the remaining 70% you don’t and may never see is where dreams are made off.

I am dreaming in public health and doing so my way. Nearly all of academia doesn’t elevate dreams. Nearly all. But if you find yourself in a place or space where dreams are allowed, I hope you dream to a point and give people a reason to want to do more.

Yesterday, we gave an update on LIGHT to our steering committee and I can’t help but envision all the things we intend to do more off. LIGHT is leaders igniting generational healing and transformation with a vision to center the public in public health. The 30% you see of LIGHT keeps us humble. But the 70% you don’t see, is my keep for today. We don’t call ourselves LIGHT for nothing. The public in public health demands LIGHT and we will dream to a point to give it to them. So welcome to our more for LIGHT. Our goals and dreams are to give you more reasons to love poetry, stories, art, letter writing or whatever else the public deserves. Enough of the experts. No offense and yes, myself included. We want to also give more reason to include the public in writing for about their health and those of people they love or care for. More reason to increase demand about the public in public health. More reason to reorder realities in new ways. More reason to fundamentally shift perspectives. More reason to see for ourselves the times we didn’t see. More reasons to hear for ourselves all the times we didn’t hear or listen. More reason to paint pictures about health our ways too. More reason to build on our common values, however long it takes to include the public in public health. This is only our 30%. The 70% of LIGHT unknown to the public startles me. You can be part of this with our new open call below:

Of what use are grants? If you think about this deeply, you will discover that it’s use are infinite. Of course some use it for their research. Some to propel their careers. I have always believed they can be used to tell stories.

I remember the very first grant I wrote over 14 years ago. I was a doctoral student then at Penn State and I was very keen on understanding how to succeed as one. I was working as a graduate assistant with Dr. Rhonda Belue and I asked her that question in the fall semester of my first year. She noted 2 things, write papers, get grants. Looking back, my mind latched on to both things and proceeded to make sense of grad school. I asked to see sample grants and Rhonda connected me to a doctoral student, Brandi who graciously shared her F-31 doctoral award. Brandi also introduced me to another doctoral student Melissa, who also shared her F-31 award. So from the beginning, seeing examples of what types of grants I could write has been critical for me.

My doctoral advisor, Dr. Collins Airhihenbuwa, also had a grant and I was mesmerized by how it allowed us to work in South Africa to understand HIV stigma first hand. It also allowed me to write a paper with guidance from the research team. Dr. Rhonda introduced me to Dr. Gbenga Ogedegbe and he had an R03 grant in Nigeria focused on hypertension. Together, I learnt firsthand what it takes to get successful global health grants focused on doing what you love. They would both ignite my passion and vision for doing great work that impacts lives in global settings I call home.

Also, I took a qualitative class focused on teaching aspects of grant writing. This was my first actual foray into grant writing. Yes, it was with esteemed Nursing professors who taught the art of writing grant but from a qualitative research perspective. I was in awe. They taught me first the meaning of storytelling with grants. Qualitative research will do that to you. Make you understand first the stories you hope to tell, whether is through a paper or in this case grants. We were taught everything about qualitative research and told we could turn our ideas into funded grants. I did. I spent that semester learning about ethnography and proceeded to write a grant focused on how I would use ethnography to understand child malaria in Nigeria. I was born in Nigeria and I figured if I would do research let it be at home and with something I knew first hand, from experience. Malaria was ingrained in my head from child hood and I figured then that if I am going to change the world, we’ll why not begin with malaria and yes using ethnography. I gathered all the documents required using Brandi and Melissa’s example F-31 as a guide. Then used my ethnography research paper on malaria as my entry point for research. I was going to work under esteemed researchers focused on malaria in Nigeria, like Dr. Mrs Falade at the University of Ibadan and my doctoral advisor would guide me every step of the way as I made deep understanding as to why child malaria persisted using culture and ethnography as a lens. I was ambitious and my ambition for being among the first to end child malaria gave me the confidence to submit an F-31 grant focused on using ethnography to understand child malaria in NIGERIa. It was rejected.

The second most important thing I learned from this first experience, was feedback. Not from those that know you, but strangers who only care about what you propose to do. They taught the value and significance of the art of feedback. So alongside beginning first with storytelling as grants thanks to my qualitative teachers, I learnt the importance of feedback from this experience. I took it all in, continued to work on my dissertation and made the choice to revise and resubmit the grant. I was in my 3rd year or so and technically with a year left in doctoral school. But I revised not with a desire to use it in my doctoral work but to gather more feedback just in case I failed again. I expected to use that feedback to continue to perfect my grant even upon graduation. I buckled up for a long journey with grants. The second version was revised and this time rather than using ethnography, I asked to gain skills in mixed methods research. It was funded and this began my journey towards becoming a grant writer.

There are very few of us in academia. It has also taken me years to see myself as one. Yet grant writing like music, or poetry is an art. Of course the science matters. You need tight science and rigorous review of research, but you also need storytelling and mastering the art of persuasion and persistence for that story you hope to tell one day. Academia did not prepare many people for storytelling as grant writing. I figured it out my way. I benefited from teachers and mentors whose life work is grounded in stories and culture and anti-racism and yes all of that combined is the reason I call myself a grant writer today. Grants for me are stories. They have always been and will continue to be stories. Reviewers may reject them. In fact most of my stories, including an actual grant on storytelling have been rejected. But I am focused on using the oppressors language for good.

In the words of Lorraine Hansberry, my dreams with grants as stories remains largely outside myself. And I am happy to keep dreaming in this way, to keep living my dream. Not for a career or to keep up with anything. But to work freely and do the things I want to do. Becoming a grant writer focused on telling stories are the things dreams are made off. To be at the cusp of the work that awaits me keeps me grateful still to so many and God. Nothing but grace personifies my life’s work. I can’t wait to start the semester teaching what I mean by grants as stories. Teaching too, why failure is always an option. Teaching the art of feedback. Teaching students to simply do as Lorraine Hansberry asks and ‘write as they will,’ what they know about their idea, what they think it ought to be and must be if their stories about their ideas are to last. I intend to teach grant writing as writing stories to a point. Writing about people and stories begging for their attention and funding. We all need the art of grants as stories. I intend to perfect it for them

Ms Lorraine Hansberry, my forever muse on grants as stories. Imagine using her as a guide. I am in awe of my goals for this course.

‘Like desire, language disrupts, refuses to be contained within boundaries.’ These opening lines of bell hooks essay on ‘Language’ in her book Teaching to Transgress is my muse for today. Not only for the meaning behind these words, but for the simplicity of the lines. I am in the final stages of prepping for my grant writing course for this Fall and beginnings are my muse.

I love grants with beginnings that are effortless. Beginnings that are open, inviting and quite simply refreshing. They usher you in like a wave. Force you to pay attention to the rise and fall, even the moments where you actually dive in to catch the wave. I am inspired by words that take root in my memory. Those that refuse to be forgotten. Their presence in a grant, especially in the beginning of a grant startle me.

If you want to really master the art of grant writing, invest deeply in beginnings that are unforgettable. Begin to with beginnings that disrupt. Those that force connections and spaces for alternative thinking and innovations. We touch one another in language. Excel too with our grants through language. Grant ideas like desire, with language that refuses to be contained are the core of well-written grants. Mastering beginnings of such grants is my muse this fall.