In 1983, Chinua Achebe wrote a very short book entitled ‘The Trouble with Nigeria.’ In it he suggested that the trouble with Nigeria then was ‘simply and squarely a failure of leadership…the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility which are the hallmarks of true leadership.’ A student asked one day, why Nigeria, why are all my National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grants focused on Nigeria. My response to her and to others who ask is why not Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. If we succeed in Nigeria, we can succeed anywhere else. Nigeria is full of people who have the will, the ability and the vision to lead health, it’s discovery, it’s innovation.

As the country celebrates its 60th independence today, the question for me is whether Achebe’s sentiments remains, whether the failure of leadership still prevails, or whether Nigerians with the will, ability, and vision to lead health will ever emerge. At some point, thoughtful Nigerians have to rise up so those leaders emerge to make an impact on the nation. Nigeria and Nigerians all over the world have the ability to facilitate innovation with health. With the exception of few, the fear that should nightly haunt its leaders, Achebe noted (but does not) is that those leaders (for health in this case) are not assuming or fulfilling that destiny in Nigeria.

For me personally, as I reflect on this day about Nigeria at sixty, with Achebe’s words in my mind, I would have concluded that the trouble for Nigeria sixty years from today will not only be a failure of leadership but also a failure of innovation, a failure to provide the opportunities for a critical mass of Nigerians to do something different that adds value.

NIMR COVID-19 test kit.

The ongoing pandemic alongside the zeal of some Nigerians have changed my thinking. Many Nigerians have risen and continue to rise to the occasion to lead health in ways often not discussed, shared, highlighted or praised. From the molecular test kit for COVID19 developed by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research that can produce results in 40 minutes, to the life-saving work of Temi Giwa-Tubosun who delivers medical supplies to hospitals in Nigeria, or to my ongoing research I-TEST-innovative tools to expand youth friendly HIV self/testing for Nigerian youth led by Nigerian youth.

Temi Giwa-Tubuosun of Life Bank.

The simple, the very serious, but simple solution for Nigeria today and beyond is innovation. Whether it’s sustaining, whether it’s disruptive, whether it’s breakthrough, it won’t matter. For Nigeria to facilitate mankind’s advancement, doing its part to create something different that adds value is its destiny. At sixty, to Nigeria, my hope for the future, is that we keep unleashing innovative solutions, particularly with health. Today, it is time to take a hard and unsentimental look at the critical question of innovation for Nigeria by Nigerians. Happy Independence Day!

My ongoing research work in Nigeria.

Every day, after the Wolf Blitzer show on CNN, he lists the names of Americans who have died as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Yesterday, he shared the story of an African American woman, Patricia Ashley, age 53, a wife for 25 years, mother of three children and a grandmother to 15 grandchildren. She was also a pre-school teacher at a private school who caught Covid-19 after returning back to work. Today she is dead. One in 1,000 African Americans have died from the pandemic. If nothing changes from now until the end of 2020, the number will increase to 1 in 500. I am an African America woman. Something has to change!

Patricia Ashely, aged 53 and died of Covid-19.

The debate last night was a disgrace. We have over 206,000 dead Americans, over 7 million have become infected and there is no solution in sight. For the past 6 months, we have watched as our lives essentially shut down. Our schools, our churches, where we eat, where our children play, everything is closed. The debates were supposed to reassure us that someone has a plan to change or turn things around. We have all waited for the current leadership to do something. Nothing has changed. We watched as our lives went into flux in March hopeful that by the start of the new school year, normalcy may return. Nothing has changed. We have heard testing may have increased, tracing maybe underway and those who test positive may be isolating themselves. Nothing has changed. We have been told to wear masks, social distance, wash your hands and keep your personal hygiene in order. Nothing has changed. We have now watched as business opened, schools opened, places of worship opened. Yet the pandemic remains and nothing has changed.

I am married to an essential worker and I remember the months of March and April when he isolated himself, took of his clothes in the garage before he came into the house, didn’t hug his children until he took his shower, walked around with a mask and slept in the basement. The summer months became bearable and he stopped isolating himself. We brought in a baby to the world and became hopeful that something will change. On Sunday for the first time in a long time, after he returned from work, after he took his clothes off and showered and before hugging his kids, he wore a mask. I froze. He felt sick. Headaches, pain, fever. I felt sick. He went to work the next day and asked for a test. It took nearly 4 hours to get tested at the hospital where he works. He did not come home that night. His results were not ready. He slept in his hospital office. So we waited and waited. Waiting for the results lead to more anxiety. What if he tests positive? What if he has exposed the virus to his family, his new 2 month old infant? Waiting for the results made us all sick. Almost 30 hours later, the results came back negative. He returned to work. Thirty-six hours later, he came home and showered.

My husband still working despite being sick.

Like many essential workers with families, our number 1 issue this election is the pandemic. We have been homeschooling our children since March. We have done our best to wear masks all the time, wash our hands and practice social distance. Our kids want to go to the closed planetarium and to the park. I want them to return to school. Something has to change. That’s all. That’s all I am asking for. Something fundamentally has to change and that is all I am voting for. The very serious function of governments is to provide calm and peace and assurance, not anxiety or chaos. The debate last night was chaotic. But like many families of essential workers, I will keep seeking for change until the pandemic ends. That’s our only issue this election. Change!

Do schools kill creativity? This question was the topic of a presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, an international advisor in education at a Ted Event in 2006. It has gotten over 19million views and counting. Homeschooling has showed me first hand how school killed my creativity. I used to love drawing and writing stories and being creative like my children. I even had a collection of short stories that I used to read to my daughter when she was a little. They were all written by me, with some illustrated even. Like my short story on how Tortise really won the race. But since I choose the academic route, since I worked hard to achieve all I could academically, my creative confidence died.

How Tortoise won the race?

I am the product of an academic system that did not necessarily foster any inquiry-based type of learning or learning that fosters divergent thinking. So do schools kill creativity? Yes. It is time though for creativity to be treated just as fundamentally as Math or Science or Literature. Without creativity Tom and David Kelley in the book ‘Creative Confidence,’ suggested we lose our ability to come up new ideas and the courage to try them on. Without creativity, we may never nurture or strengthen the innate gifts that lies within all of us. Without creativity, we may never develop breakthrough ideas that inspires and improves people’s lives. Without creativity, the fear of failure may linger limiting opportunities for growth, learning, discovery, innovation. Without creativity, we may never change the world.

Creativity matters. One of the side effects of this pandemic and homeschooling is that I am finally working on unleashing my creativity. I courageously started this blog to write everyday, anything I want, my way, no filters, no review. Just writing. For the first time, I can call myself a writer. That’s it. Not a global health researcher or even a grant writer, just a writer. This is what the pandemic and being home has done for me. Discovering your creative potential is the best gift any human can give to themselves. It is how we make a dent in the universe, how we think differently to create things that have benefits or values. I see my place in the world now more clearly. I am a writer with audacious goals. Writing everyday is allowing me to embrace new skills, allowing to reflect, observe and parent my kids in ways that also nurture and unleash their creative potential. I hope you continue to join me as I work to embrace my creative confidence.

There is a shirt my little boy wears all the time. It simply reads ‘radiate kindness.’ That’s all. The 2 words on the shirt are more than information. Radiate kindness should be a way of life. The way people live, the stories they tell, even how we rise or fall, speak up or remain silent, should embody kindness.

There is a strong tendency to demand it from certain folks and not others. We expect those lesser than us to radiate kindness but not us. We get infuriated, demand kindness, forgetting it a force that radiates from our being. But the point is to be kind. Live it, pass it on. It will come back to you.

Every time my son wears the shirt, I become alert. I can’t be a parent if my being isn’t filled with kindness. Every time my children cry for the most mundane thing, I have to be kind. Like yesterday when my son cried because the Planetarium was closed thanks to the pandemic. Crying is an understatement. He knew the Planetarium was closed. We had passed by it numerous times and each time he asked about it, I reminded him that it was closed due to the pandemic. Yesterday was the climax. He was outraged. He screamed, he shouted. He cried, he grieved and no words could console him. Kindness was all I had. So I let it radiate from me to him. I allowed him to cry as we are all tired of the pandemic. I would cry too if I was a child as it has robbed them of their childhood this year. We all have the power to be kind. There are no winners or losers when we absorb it and pass it on. It is the right thing to do. Keep radiating kindness.

I am a long distance runner. I figured this out this past month. For the last 30 days, I have some how managed to achieve a goal of a 10mile run each week. Some weeks I did close to 12miles, but for the most part I completed my goal each week to a big surprise to myself still. I never knew I could run 1-2miles let alone 4miles.

A successful 4+mile race.

When I started running back in graduate school it was for 1mile or less. Since life took a hold of me, I stopped running altogether. Though I may run occasionally with my husband, it was never with a goal in mind. We just ran. He on the other hand is a short distance runner. He loves to sprint really fast, and stop. I used to be able to keep up with his style of running until I couldn’t do so anymore. I would get tired so easily. At times I just give up and start walking while he sprints away.

That was until I picked up running again this past month, my style. I set a small goal at first, at least one mile. Then slowly, it became another mile, then another and now I can comfortably run at least 4miles a day. I was in awe with myself. Then my hubby, Zobam joined me one day and started to sprint away fast. I tried to keep up and I couldn’t run. One mile was tiring, 2 miles painful and I practically gave up by the third. That was when I realized we both had 2 very distinct running styles. He likes to sprint fast in short distances and stop, while I am more comfortable with long distances.

Understanding my running style also made me realize the lesson with today’s post. Keep sprinting race through life your way. That’s it. We all have our own races to run and something it may require that we complete short tasks, other times, longer task. The key is to do what works best for you and those who support your race your style, in my case my Zobam. To compromise, on some days we run short distances. I still get easily tired with short distances. On other days, we run long distance and I am in heaven. Keep sprinting your own race with those that matter, for life is to short.

A successful 4+mile race.

There is a song I often play while running. As if on cue, it played today during my 4mile run. The lyrics to this song speaks volumes to me. It’s Beyoncé’s ‘Bigger’ from the Lion King Soundtrack. She starts by singing these words ‘if you feel insignificant, you better think again, better wake up, because you are part of something bigger.’ Let these words sink in for a moment.

Another successful 4+mile run today.

This is the gift of Beyoncé. I know many celebrate her for artistry, but her ability to bring writers together to pen lyrics like ‘Bigger’ is divine. Read it for yourself again; ‘if you feel insignificant, you better think again, better wake up, because you are part of something bigger.’ She goes on to describe how you are the living word, not a speck in the universe. She reminds you of how you are part of something way bigger and why you need to step in your essence because you are excellent. Rise up because you are part of something way bigger.

How often are you reminded of your essence or that you are excellent? How often are you told that the truth in your soul, which may scare you, is just a reminder that you are part of something way bigger? Let that sink in again because you are. If you don’t believe these words, that’s fine. Even Beyoncé acknowledges that she is writing the lyrics as a reminder to herself, that she too is part of something way bigger. Imagine that.

Whenever I listen to the lyrics, I am reminded that she is absolutely right and not because she is Beyoncé but because God in a way is using these words to remind me that I too am part of something way bigger. His words are enough. If he is for you, then he is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all you could ever think or ask of. No matter how hard it gets, he is able to help you bloom into your powers so that truth in your soul is realized. I needed to write this to myself today as a reminder because there are days when I too feel insignificant, when I too feel asleep, and frustrated, wondering whether I am fulfilling all my essence with the right support system around me. No need minimizing my essence. No need waiting or seeking permission to step into my excellence. But yet I do.

Even though I feel and believe these words, situations have a way of belittling you, making you feel insignificant. We are all humans after all. Yet all I have to do is rise up and let God do exceedingly and abundantly above all I could ever ask of think. This is how being part of something way bigger is realized. Look up, don’t look down. Look up to the one that would make it all happen. He knows the truth in your soul. Keep rising, you are part of something way bigger.

My look after another successful 4+mile run.

The year is 1918. Despite a flu pandemic and the end of World War 1, Ms Annie Turnbo Malone became the first self-made African American woman millionaire. As part of homeschooling, my daughter and I went to the Missouri Museum of History’s ‘Beyond the Ballot’ exhibit to learn about the pioneering work of Ms. Malone.

Born in 1869 in Illinois, Annie Turnbo Malone, was an astute African American business woman who developed a complete line of beauty products. She taught women how to become franchise owners of her company, employing close to 75,000 women worldwide. The year again was 1918. Racism was still very much alive and this was at the end of World War 1 and also during the pandemic of 1918. But somehow, Annie Turnbo Malone thrived.

In fact, before there was Madam CJ Walker, there was Ms Malone, the first, self-made African American millionaire. As a chemist, she invented Wonderful Hair Grower for black women. As an entrepreneur, she built a training and distribution center for her beauty products. As a philanthropist, she presided over an orphanage and gave most of her money to charities. While her achievements have been widely overlooked given those of Madam CJ Walker, I am glad the history museum continues to find ways to celebrate this pioneering woman. Over 100 years later, she remains a phenomenal example of why we should keep thriving even during a pandemic.

Whoever still questions how a black woman remains undervalued should remember Breonna Taylor. Whoever wonders how a black woman feels unseen should remember Breonna Taylor. Whoever seeks to know why a black woman still remains unprotected even 2020, should remember Breonna Taylor. Black women have been under enormous duress for far to long. Enormous. We remain undervalued, unseen, unprotected even while sleeping in our own house, on our beds. But yesterday was a tipping point. Today I am interested in how we survive. Today I want to let all my fellow Black women know where ever you are, that you matter. Because of Breonna Taylor, I value you. Because of Breonna Taylor, I see you. Because of Breonna Taylor, I will do my part to protect you.

Keep surviving for Breonna Taylor

Robbing Breonna Taylor of her life was one drastic thing, but letting her murderers go scot-free is pure contempt for black women’s lives. Hence my interest in how we survive. There are no easy answers. Justice was once again denied, my mouth is full of anger, my heart pain. But we must survive. No use wondering whether the law will ever be on our side, it won’t. No need screaming for people to say her name, the won’t. Yet for Breonna we must survive.

We will not forget yesterday’s failure to arrest the cops that murdered Breonna. We are lifting her family in prayers that they may find the strength to continue to bear this loss despite the injustice, despite an arrest for a life cut too short. And for Breonna Taylor, we shall survive. For her legacy, we will be valued. In her name, we will be visible and for generations now and yet to come, we will do our part to protect black women everywhere. Breonna Taylor even in death you won and because of you, I will keep surviving.

Keep surviving for Breonna Taylor

For poetry yesterday as part of homeschooling, we read the poetry of Margaret Esse Danner, especially her poem “This African Worm.’ Every week my daughter picks out a poem she likes and we spend sometime reading the poem, studying the poet, while trying to make sense of the lessons learnt from the poem. Margaret Esse Danner was a prolific poet, born in Kentucky but grew up in Chicago. She was the first African American assistant editor at Poetry magazine. Her poetry often engages African artwork and culture.

Margaret Esse Danner

Her ‘This African Worm’ resonates with ongoing struggles in our society today often faced by people everywhere. No matter where you are, the struggles are the same. Whether it’s a fight for justice or equality, whether it’s a fight to end hunger or poverty, no matter whether in Africa or North America, we all experience the same strife. Even to my daughter Lotanna, if you are a worm for now, that’s not good. We keep our heads low, as we make sense of the burden we are experiencing. We crawl and wait as Ms. Danner’s poem suggested. Until a time comes when things change, when things start to shift. Though we may crawl today, though our heads maybe low today, but there is hope in the wait. There is hope even as we take little steps or crawl like worms while making sense of our journey. That in the end, is the essence of life. That one day, one day, things will truly get better for people everywhere.

Margaret Esse Danner’s ‘This is an African Worm.’

This hope was evident in a comment shared by Margaret Esse Danner in an essay we found about her online at the University of Chicago library for a book entitled Black Poets in America in 1975-she wrote, “As for my poetry: I believe that my dharma is to prove that the Force of Good takes precedence over the force for evil in mankind. To the extent that my poetry adheres to this purpose it will endure.”

Your poetry endures today Ms. Danner and a new generation, my daughter’s generation in particular, will use your words for good. Until then, I’ll keep waiting.

Lotanna reading ‘This is an African Worm’ by Margaret Esse Danner.

Yesterday during my son’s Zoom Art class he was given an assignment to draw a bee. His art teacher started by instructing her students to draw a big circle for its face, then 2 small circles for its eyes, a small but wide letter u for its nose and a large, wide u for its mouth. My son only drew the large circle at first, then looked at me as asked, what’s the assignment again? I said, well you teacher wants you all to draw a bee? He looked at what she was drawing and seemed a little confused. Then without hesitation, he began to draw what a bee looked like to him. I tried to redirect him, but he kept drawing his version of a bee. By this time the teacher was focused on the hair of bee, telling the kids that their bees could even wear masks given our present day situation with the ongoing pandemic. My son had his own ideas and stayed focused on drawing what a bee should look like. I gave up trying to redirect him and allowed him to draw what he wanted.

Zoom art class.

As I recounted the story to my husband last night, I realized the lesson in my son’s insistence to draw what a bee looked like: It’s the need to keep being different. It’s tough to teach children how to stand out from the crowd but my six year old seemed to understand what many grownups still struggle with. No point being like the rest of the world. Just be yourself. By moving ahead to draw the assignment in a realistic way, I learnt why drawing matters. It’s is truly an age-old disciplining that allows us to learn things faster in clear, meaningful and concrete ways. I have since lost the gift of child-like drawing. But these days of homeschooling has opened up my eyes to the endless possibilities of drawing and why they matter for life.

My son’s take on the assignment also showed why being different matters. The moment we start to complete an assignment, no matter the deviations or distractions along the way, stay true to yourself and press on with clarity. Watching him perfect his assignment also showed why you should stay they course no matter the challenge. You can adjust or refine your thoughts on the original idea, but be different. You can take risks or move in an entire new direction, but do so with integrity. Being different allows you to exist, allows you to remain unique, allows you be authentic in this world full of duplicate ideas. From my son’s homeschool art class, I learnt why it’s important to keep being different.

Chiwetel’s Bee Assignment