I’ll like to bear witness to 2021. To remain rooted in some way. To all the life we endured. And remind you all to note that we are still here. This year brought me to my knees. Made me wail in ways that I never knew existed. It wasn’t just the death it brought, though that was intense and difficult. It was mostly the pain, and the uncertainty that accompanied periods of pain mixed with despair. But I’m still here. We were battered. We were bruised. We cried out from the depths of our hearts for things completely out of our control. We prayed. I remember screaming out the top of my lungs that what God cannot do does not exist. Yet, there were things or prayers that went unanswered. Times that made me question whether he existed. Surely when his children cry out to him from the depths of their sorrow, he would come to their aid. His own words makes it’s known that whoever and I mean whoever goes to him for safety would say he is our God. We did. We all took turns and went and yes he did his part to keep us and protect us. And though a thousand fell dead around us, one of them was more than enough to make us question whether he remembered us. But, we are still here. And so as I look back on the year that brought so much pain mixed with so much uncertainty coupled with a never ending desire to do more with my time on earth, I am reminded by the words of Langston Hughes paraphrased for me and my family today that, “We are still here.” Langston Hughes and his poetry have been a great source of comfort to me as we close out this year. Of course the word of God is forever at my side, but reading something as eloquent as still being here, made me realize that all of the pain, all of the uncertainty, even all of the struggle with this past year was worth it, because we are still here. So in closing out this chapter, this year, let me also remind you that you are still here and to me that’s more than enough.

You are still here. Still here. You may have struggled. Your lives may have trembled. Beneath waves that crushed. But, you are still here. Still here. You may have been exhausted. The pandemic keeps soaring. Numbers keep rising. Heaviness and burnout on your shoulders. But you are still here. Still here. You may have dreamed dreams. Flung your arms wide as you dreamed dreams that disappeared in the morning. But you are still here. Still here. You may have failed. Your toils may have been excruciating. With a failure that endlessly echo. But you are still here. Still here. You may have sown a seed. On grounds that did not sprout. All you labor may seem useless but you are still here. Still here. You may have been heartbroken. Love may have given up on you. All it’s patience, faith and hope may have failed you. But you are still here. Still here. You may have stopped laughing. You may have passed through life like shadows across the earth with no joy. But you are still here. Still here. You may have grieved. The death of a child, a partner, a loved one. Life in disarray for an end that came too soon, too painful to put to words. But despite this, you are still here. Still here. You may have fallen into despair. Fallen into the darkest and deepest pit. That you were close to death. Yet, you are still here. Still here. You may have even died. All your strength may have been gone. That you felt abandoned like the dead lying in their graves. I want you to know that you are still here. You are and it matters to me. That you keep knowing that you are still here. And for so many others, for you, the light that came to you. This light may have furiously knocked. Furiously insisted to remain. Furiously lighting up everything. Even in the midst of all the darkness around. Thank you for opening the door. Thank you for carrying your light as you showed us all how to still be here despite all the life you endured. Thank you for still being here. And I pray that 2022 will be more than you hoped for. May blessings be with you and may you find success in all you do.

Langston Hughes has a poem entitled ‘I Too.’ It’s based on Walt Whitman’s classic ‘I Hear America Singing.’ For some reason, I saw the poem today while sifting through my Langston books. It got me wondering, and with all we have endured this year in 2021, just how would America sing? For sure, she would sing of being sick. Omicron has me exhausted. I’m tired and would like to really see the end of the tunnel with this pandemic. I also realize we have a long way to go if we continue along this path of not vaccinating the world. Don’t get me started on those including children under 5 that are not vaccinated. I fear for my kids under 5. Then there are the violence, a 14 year old killed while shopping with her mother, or kids killed at school for doing what they are supposed to be doing, going to school. Then there is poverty. My family and I spent Christmas eve taking care of homeless people in Saint Louis and let’s just say I am overwhelmed. Why can’t we get to the bottom of homelessness or poverty in general? I share all this to say that if Walt or Langston were to write their poem today, for sure, they would both be on track with where we are as a country, but also we would be sicker, more violent, and definitely poor. Hence my take below.

By Langston Hughes

We too sing America. We are your new generation. A sick, violent, and poor generation singing as we await 2022. We sing of a pandemic, which turned the world upside two years ago, and continues along its path. The healthcare worker sings of burnout and exhaustion. The parents sing of juggling multiple stressors at work and home. The teenager sings of being in a constant state of flux, as they cope with the pandemic. The children sing of a childhood gone in disarray as the pandemic surges on. While the elders sing of isolation as they continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic. As if that’s not enough, we too live in an America where violence is more common than a Sunday rest. Your children, sing of the violence they see in their schools with classmates choosing bullets rather than books. Your communities sing too of violence on their streets, with protesters insisting that Black Lives Matter and they do. Your Congress sings of violence too, with an angry mob that would rather desecrate its halls that choose your democracy. While those we elect sing in words that would rather tear us down than build up we the people by the people. As if that’s still not enough, we live in America where one-third of your children are poor. Your families sing of not getting enough to eat with food insecurities and not getting enough to drink with water insecurities. Your poor households sing of bearing the brunt of rising prices. Your public sings of lacking systems, health, education, governments, that continue to fail to put them first. While your citizens sing of not having homes for your children. Besides, nothing seems to be transforming all we still know about America. That this too is a land that still fails to take a stand for all forms of racism, for immigrants, for rural life, for your children, who continue to sing of being sick, continue to be weary of the rampant state of violence, continue to remain poor, despite being born on fruited plains.

I pray 2022 has us singing a different note.

The path to light neither begins or ends with me. It’s a path afterall and it’s true destination will remain unknown. Light emits ray and it often falls on people open to its ways. I am open to the journey and all the curves along the way. Those that deflate or drive, alter or align certain values one achieves when you bare your bosom to the sun. I am open to the bewildering aspects of the journey too, like why do I have to keep falling each time I get up. Or why am I vested in the good of others, their derision too, and not what matters to me.

Becoming light is tedious, full of strife, plenty doubt, with a heavy dose of failure. Becoming light is be like a tree, a naked tree in the middle of Fall, with no green leaves for cover. All have fallen, and lay by it’s side. And the tree, this glorious tree which once stood as bright as the distant moon, has nothing more to say. So to is the journey to becoming light. My daughter and I read Langston Hughes ‘Song’ yesterday. We both agreed that this writing, so effortless, so evergreen, illustrates what it means to become light, showcases how it’s a journey that never end, one full of pain and strife we gladly accept. We wished Song would go on, like a distant tune echoing through a windy, lonely night. We are children of the night after all and we refuse to be afraid of light, refuse to be afraid of the dark, refuse to be afraid to bare our souls to the sun, refuse to be afraid to open our life to strife. Our fists maybe sore from knocking on closed gates. The gates keep closing too no matter how hard we knock and we are knocking furiously. But we will wait. We will wait until the moment when we truly become light.

Langston Hughes, ‘Song.’

Dreams show us what we can be.

Unending dreams based on stories untold.

Music unheard.

Art unseen.

Words unspoken.

Visions untapped.

Ideas unimaginable.

Strength unknown.

Intensity unrelenting.

Wisdom understated.

Prayers unceasing.

Truth unapologetic.

Love unstoppable.

Failure untiring.

Revolution unexpected.

Territories uncharted.

Possibilities unseen.

Stars undenied.

Fire unquenched.

These fires in my head. Transformed into visions beyond words is unspeakable.

Dreams help you say it in your own way, unconcerned about the underlying consequences of your dreams knowing it is destined to be undenied. Structures of your thoughts become unbreakable with dreams undefeated. Dreams created for change unintended until they started to manifest unassuming. Impossible places turn into possibilities unwavering. These dreams that take us to new places of clarity undeterred.

I’ll rather dream these days unhindered by anything or anyone. I’ll rather hold on to my dreams unfiltered by the norms of today. I’ll rather soar to new places far and wide, uncharted places too that only dreams may allow undaunted by anything or anyone. I’ll rather go to spaces that value a wandering spirit that dreams unrestrained. I’ll rather be with people that dream unfazed by yesterday, but prepared to light a torch for a tomorrow full of dreams unknown.

Dreams show us what we can be. An undeterred dreamer, a writer, a mother, me, however long I choose to keep dreaming unhindered by your unwillingness to dream. Keep dreaming unending dreams.

Everything ceases the moment you discover Langston Hughes. Jacqueline Woodson shared this in her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. I have been dreaming and Langston Hughes is my keeper. He helps you become intentional with words. To him they matter and can be fire within, setting a world ablaze when used with precision. He was skillful at this, hence why I keep dreaming, of words, of joy, of timeless things I can do, because I dared to dream. ‘Hold on to your dream,’ he once wrote, ‘for if they die, life becomes like a broken-winged bird, unable to fly.’ I am holding on to them and because of Mr Hughes, I am prepared to fly. See my take on his powerful poem ‘Dreams.’

Let your dreams be like the glowing moon. Impossible to reach, but still, hold on to your dreams.

Let your journey be as golden like sunsets at dawn. Impossible to describe, your journey full of gold.

Let your joy be like countless circles of light. Impossible to count, your circles full of joy.

Let your questions be as endless like rivers without end. Impossible to debate, your questions that flow.

Let your voice be loud for justice and peace. Impossible to silence, your voice so loud.

Let your soul be full of grace. Impossible to break, a graceful soul like you.

‘Bear in mind, that death is a drum,’ notes Langston Hughes in his poetry entitled ‘Drum.’ To him, it beats forever, until we answer it’s call. The call is not for the dead, but those living. Death is a drum calling those living to come. I can hear it’s pulsating beat. It thuds louder on days like today. Emotions are high. Hearts are broken. Everything seems surreal. As the drum keeps beating. She lies in state. We look in a daze. This is truly not a dream. And the drum keeps beating. Mama is crying. No mother should bear this loss. Still the drum keeps beating. We feel helpless. Hopeless too. For a life gone so soon. Yet the drum keeps beating. Death is truly a drum. Calling those living to come. Come as you are. For life itself is nothing, nowhere. Cancer too, may have won this round. As the drum keeps beating. We look for signals. There is none. So we watch. As they start to lower her down. The drum beats louder now. We watch till the last call. The last sands fall. As we all heed the call. Of a drum that keeps beating. We are breathless. Speechless too. There is no air. All seems lost, even time, and a day. Still, the drum keeps beating. We beat Angie’s drum, louder today, keeping Langston in mind. Beating this drum forever. As we too now bear in mind, that death is indeed a drum.

Have you heard about Fire?

Not the real thing as in flames or burning or combustion.

But a quarterly literary magazine set up by Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Aaron Douglas, Richard Bruce Nugent, Gwendolyn Bennett and John P. Davis, to do one thing one only (in my opinion): to express the truth within oneself.

It’s is a vivid portrait of life as a black artist at a time when being a writer or an artist was not fashionable both literally and figuratively.

They had a credo first set forth by Langston Hughes and it notes the following: ‘We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual-dark skinned self without fear or shame. If white people are pleased, we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too…If colored people are pleased, we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how. And we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.’

I had to quote this one word for word to illustrate the fire within all of us. ‘Few are indeed destined to succeed so brilliantly at that which they set about to do,’ the magazine notes. I agree.

Fire didn’t succeed. But it lives on years later and for new generations for artist because it’s vision remains true even today.

Art should always be in service of humankind. Health too. We do so not for health sake, but for our own sake, for people sake, and the sake of the whole human race.

We are like a Phoenix, those of us in public health, grappling these days about the public’s health, and like Langston Hughes once noted, one day we will rise from the fire to which we have consigned ourselves too.

And like a burning flame, we will light the path forward for public health to truly become the public’s health.

Welcome to an unconventional and adventurous journey I have decided to embark on with public health. The destination is unknown. But I look forward to becoming the light within.

The original cover of Fire magazine created in 1926.