That which is deep within us rises. Through dreams upon dreams, lifts up. Through shrouds of darkness too, continues an ascent. Until unseen visions take to the air, like eagles and soar. I see mountains. No turning back.

My week has been nothing short of chaotic. If I didn’t know I was obsessed with grant writing, well it was made clear this week. I am leading another one and all I want is your prayers, for grace, for strength, for a final version that makes me smile as I watch my cup overflow. That which is deep within me is rising beyond me.

I write slowly. Painstakingly slow. I have been letting the words come. They come really slow. It may seem like I can’t get to the end. I have been told to set deadlines. I do. All the time I have deadlines with my other style of writing. I always meet the ones with the grants I commit to writing. Deadlines aren’t a problem. But for this other style of my writing, the nonfiction side that seeks to challenge the status quo, that writing side is pretty slow. I think it’s because non fiction or even fiction writers don’t often prescribe solutions. We do that a lot in academic/scientific writing. We have a solution for $25k or $10million and if we are good at this grant writing style, you will probably give us that money. And chances are nothing we prescribe will actually change anything. It’s the sad but real truth about academic writing. We are in the business of offering solutions. Impossible and often unsustainable ones. Granted it may work for 705 or even 30 people we follow for 6 months or 12 months after our study ends. But visit those people 4 years later, chances are nothing has changed. And we are probably off to the next grant. That side of writing in my opinion is part of a colonial legacy that has dominated scientific writing for to long. It also has to change.

Recently, a top journal sent out an email asking people to respond to their themed paper on ways to advance racial and ethnic equity in science and health. They especially requested for racial and ethnic groups marginalized or often excluded from publishing to send in their papers. I chuckled. Not only have you excluded these groups from publishing, now you want them to end racism too. The ones you intentionally excluded? Are they god? Do people only see racial and ethnic groups in science as gods?

We are only just coming to terms with the knowledge that finally, racism can be publicly declared as a public health crisis. It was just acknowledged last year, in 2021. Something we have known for too long. And now, one year later, we are supposed to have interventions that end racism, metrics to measure progress, even ways to advance workforce diversity that advances racial and ethnic equity in health. Surely even their gods must be crazy. If you have systematically excluded voices of people and scholars experiencing inequities, if you have not allowed them to be lead authors or even accepted any paper they wrote, how then can you expect them to do the impossible as if they were gods. This is my musing for today, something I wrote as a verse below. Ooh and racial and ethnic minorities in academia cannot end racism we never started. Enjoy below.

Surely we can write, about racism, about its many forms, about the structures that perpetuate racism, about policies and practices too that are racist.

Surely we can write about how racism leads to segregation, leads to violence and incarceration, leads to inequitable access to health, leads to poor quality care, leads to color blindness, leads to systemic bias, and ultimately fails the people it serves. We can do all that with your call for papers. Or we could try truth-telling.

How might the same people, voices unheard of, voices ignored, voices suppressed, or voices excluded, end something they never started? The pernicious effects of racism are not for ignored or excluded voices to address, let alone remedy. All of that is your problem, not ours.

We know the effects of racism. We live it too. No calls for papers will end what we know about it. No selection of papers, peer-reviewed, commitment to anti-racism, will change this one fundamental fact, we are at a crossroads.

The tools we use with writing as we do scientifically are colonial.

Racism has seriously disturbed scientific writing for too long.

We will not survive using your colonial tools. This is after all the oppressors language. The master’s tool. We know this also.

But those of us committed to change will survive.

We will survive.

Not in methods, results or discussions. Not in margin of errors or regression models. Not in p-values or any rigorous statistical analysis.

We will change course and move on. We will drop what we can, forms and styles of writing we can, and continue our journey, our way.

This is our story too. We will write ourselves and the people we serve into history. Our way. With or without you. We don’t need representatives. We don’t even need papers. We will write our stories, write our histories, write our fears, write new frontiers, write until we become clear. Write until we change injustices. Our way.

We have tried to learn your ways. Tried to push back on the misrepresentation that so often defines the people we serve.

Today isn’t our morning.

We have been ready to take on this challenge. Ready to make concessions where we can. Public health critical race praxis is one fine example. Not even your exclusions have undermined what we know.

That even those presumed to have no voice, have voice. Those presumed to have no power, have that too.

And we are doing what is expected of us. Our way.

We know something better than your ways exist. We know the possibilities of light. We are also committed to proclaim like the universe once did. Let there be light.

Writing grants has taught me how to fail 30 times. I look forward to the 31st time. Counting failures is something I do now. Something I embrace too. The hurdles or the joy. The writing. The waiting. The bearing witness to, how things we believe in crumble, for lack of funding. And I have believed in so many things that failed. Poured my blood into missions that ended before they even started. I am learning to love all the pain they entail, all the sadness too, or the weight of each failure. Not because success isn’t better. But more so for the lessons every failure teaches. The doors and unexpected journeys along the way they open too.

I wrote a grant on ways to arise, on ways to let minds often ignored thrive. Failing with that grant broke me down that I became the opposite of what we sought to do. My mind failed me too for awhile. Until I started to see the beauty in failing. See that grant would have changed my life but failing it too has opened new and unexpected doors for me. I expected to scream that we got funding to do great research but now I scream we have no funding, but impactful work continues. In fact the most important work you will do, is the work you do for free. The work you wake up everyday to simply do because you have too. The work you use to connect with each other as humans. The work you do to provide light to dark spaces. My grants are often for the eyes of few people to see. But the most impactful work I have done are free, open and accessible for all to see. It cost me nothing to use words, my words to change people’s life. I may have failed to secure funding for my grants, but every day and through my words, I secure hope that connects us to each other. This is the beauty of failure worth spreading. (ps another grant is being reviewed today as I type this, I may get my wish before next week with my 31st failure. Accepting each one gets better with time).

I have been learning about the art of possibilities lately. Something about radiating possibilities seems inspiring to me these days. I was gifted the book ‘the art of possibilities’ during my program with altMba. I never really opened the book until this weekend. I can’t seem to drop it down. It all started with making preparations for my Tuesday class. We are focusing on fears with grantwriting, including my Rule number 5, or ‘remembering that failure is an option.’ I wanted to update my lecture a bit, to include contemporary prompts that would motivate my students to move beyond fear to accept failure as an opportunity.

The book Radical Candor initially came to mind. I love it’s take on caring personally and challenging directly. I am truly radical with how I approach grantwriting. It shows in the way I grade assignments. Some students like my tough love stance. I say it comes from a place of caring deeply for what they seek to do, with a heavy dose of challenging directly. You are not writing to me is also what I say. I maybe your teacher in this course, but I am also a grant reviewer for NIH. Write to that hat I wear, not your professor. Like I said, some students love it, others, well, let’s just say they get used to it in the end per the reviews I get. I care personally. I am all for bringing out the best in students, not being loved. So radical candor makes sense to me. But that was last year. This year (and not to tone down on radical candor), I wanted to inject a bit on seeing failure as an option, an opportunity, a possibility even. Enter the book by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander below.

From the beginning, we are informed that this is a how-to-book of an unsual kind. I was intrigued. The objective: to help the reader lift off from the world of struggle and sail to the vast universe of possibilities. I was sold. Can a book really do this is all I kept asking myself? Can a book help me harness failure for example as a possibility waiting to be brought to life?

Couple of things I read were truly inspiring and will be tried in my grantwriting class this fall. Like giving the entire class an A from the beginning. It’s radical indeed and the premise is that freely granted A expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork, and relationship. All of this is required for success with any grant. Looking back, merely putting a grant together is an automatic A so this makes sense. In the absence of a vision, we are each driven by our own agenda. But when we grant A in all our relationships, grant writing process for example, we align ourselves with others, because the A sustains any life-enhancing partnership.

I am learning that every day. I recently failed with a major grant I wrote. The failure was gut wrenching and it really made me depressed. The failure also happened while my sister in-law was transitioning from this world to the next, so the depression was real. But so to are the steps I am slowing taking to make sense of what I do, make sense of grant writing for example. I may have failed with that grant, but since learning about rule number 5 and giving myself an A for evening putting that grant together in the first place, the possibilities are endless. I am truly sailing to the universe of possibilities and beyond. The failure was excess stone that needed to be chipped away. Doing so slowly, one failure at a time, is revealing the graceful form within what I do. Like a diamond in a rough, I get better with grant writing with each failure. The possibilities are endless when I remember rule number 5. Only a matter of time before all of this makes sense.

In the meantime, I have shared previously that I was taught early in undergrad that research is a viable career path. So most of my junior and senior years were spent earning credits not in lecture halls but in research labs as an undergraduate researcher. All my experience were automatic A. In fact the easiest way to earn A’s in college is to become a researcher for class credits. It propelled me to a universe of possibilities with research. I was able to move for example, from a bachelors degree to a doctoral degree with no masters degree in between, but fully earned A’s as an undergraduate researcher. So I recognize the value of freely giving students an A. Will I try it out? Yes. Will keep you all posted how students react to this at the end of the semester. For now, here is to hoping it lifts my students off into the universe of possibilities with grant writing.

First day blues. Today was the first day since I last taught a class, a little over a year ago. It’s seems like a long time ago. My mindset begins blues. My mind was set on new ways to cultivate this course, elevate this class too. We are heavy on Sinek. Start with why, my forever muse. It’s a grant writing class. So finding why, is what I forever choose. The golden circle my forever mood. Behind the scenes, though, three children were sick with cold. Something viral in the air with all the back to school blues. I caught it too. Still we proceeded with today, nervous as ever, for every start of a new semester, a new set of blues, new set of rules and tools, for weary souls. There is still a pandemic too. Yet we begin, as if my world has not been turned upside down since August, as if these blues have not depressed my mind. We moved with ease too. Seeing new faces, new minds to cultivate, bring joy for this call to elevate. Never want to get to the top without minds we elevate. So I settled down to reach each one, as best as I could, with stories that would help shift minds as best as it could. We don’t teach here. We reach minds. There were talks of failure as an opportunity. My stories through academia are ripe with failures. Lavish ones to boast of. Of ways to fail eloquently, yet rise still eloquent, for the call to elevate minds is a movement, a moment so full of eloquence. There were peaks and valleys or stories of moments of joy, moments of despair through this process of cultivating minds. They loved it. This isn’t a grant writing class I said. It’s one where we throw all rules out the door. For to be the best at this, to truly work to cultivate minds, you will need to elevate minds to think outside the box, outside all they have stocked in neat piles about grant writing. I don’t do piles. I don’t teach either. Just stories. Every grant is a storytelling tell to me. So we begin there, with your why story. They smiled. I smiled too. We are hooked. First day blues keep me smiling all day too. Day 1 down, 12 more to go. Keep first day blues with new classes.

In 2007, my doctoral advisor wrote a paper entitled ‘on being comfortable with being uncomfortable; centering an Africanist vision as a gateway for global health.’ In the paper, he had an image of a child neither romanticized nor diseased, representations that are typically the norm in discussions in anything concerning Africa.

Photo by Olusegun Fayemi

The paper goes on to discuss the misrepresentation of African identity and how part of that framing lies with researchers who would rather interpret Africa as disease-ridden and crisis plagued rather than humanity that populated the region. It was for this reason that the paper asked the question ‘can you define who you are without referencing what you do?’ Most researchers are very comfortable speaking about their identity based on their profession and incapable of defining who they are outside what they do. The paper goes on to discuss how African identity should be at the center to research on African health and development. Also how we need to deconstruct conventional assumptions and theories used to frame public health and solutions for Africans. I share all this to say that this paper helped me define the gate through which I enter research. I value research where knowledge production, including the acquisition and distribution of it is affirmed by those who own the knowledge, including those traditionally underrepresented in research.

This paper also remains one of my favorite papers and a source for daily inspiration whenever I need the assurance that I am fulfilling my destiny in academia. See the past three months have been brutal. Not only did I work as a homeschool teacher as as mother to 4 children under 8 years of age, I took on the Herculean task of submitting 2 NIH grant proposals back to back with me as a lead. I have been here before. The work isn’t a problem for me. If you know my history with NIH grants, then you would know that I am most comfortable being uncomfortable with submitting 2 grants at the same time. The reason I went to my advisor’s article today after submitting the second one (the first one was submitted last week) was because I needed to read these words to myself and I’m paraphrasing “continue to propel yourself to new levels possibilities are endless.’ My advisor pushed the need to not conduct research from a deficit model, but from one where people are represented just as they are. Not diseases or romanticized beings, but people with possibilities that are endless. The two grants that I submitted are a reflection of these possibilities. Of course lord only knows the outcome, but I am satisfied with myself and my never ending quest for possibilities that remain endless. Keep this for yourself.

A friend shared this quote yesterday in the middle of a crazy work schedule: “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”― Patanjali

I will share insights from my journey the past month with writing the best grant of my life. I obviously don’t know whether it will ever get funded but it was pure joy writing this one. Reading this quote shared by my friend helped me a lot during the last mile stretch of the grantwriting journey. As if the universe also knew I needed further encouragement, I was taken to the book of Isaiah this morning, chapter 41 verse 10. Not only will God call you, but when he does, he wants you to not be afraid. He is God and nothing will terrify you. He is prepared to make you strong and help you. He is also prepared to protect and save you. He is ultimately the Lord your God and when you live in his purpose for your life, nothing will terrify you. I am not afraid to live in my purpose. The past month solidified it hence why I am keeping this here. Keep living in your purpose and trust God.

Audre Lorde once shared in her phenomenal book Sister Outsider ‘that the quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized.’ Grant writing for me is light. It is the space through which all my ideas are given permission to simply flourish whether they make sense or not, whether they get funded or not. It is through grant writing that I give names to ideas that are nameless and formless until they are about to be birthed and even felt. The distillation of process by which grant writing springs to birth new ideas, as the new ideas births new concepts, and the new concepts birth new knowledge is the key to understanding. I am in the business of light making because grant writing first called me. Keep being light.