Welcome to LIGHT.

Welcome to the transformative force we call LIGHT.

Welcome to its flame

Welcome to its fire

Welcome to its ray

Welcome to its shine

Welcome to its spark

Welcome to its utter brilliance,

Welcome to its radiant reflection

Welcome simply to a day we hope to clarify that the public in a field called public health, matters.

I start with these words from the poet Lucille Clifton’s description of LIGHT, because it is what, I hope, you leave with today.

The transformative force of light for a field that has put its public in the dark for so long, with our conferences that often exclude the public and our peer-reviewed publications that are often read by us and not the public we purport to serve.

This is a journey that began with fear, failure too, as it was intended to be an avenue through which we deliberately bring anti-racism into public health to achieve the social justice we all need and deserve with our healing.

Every time I remember how all this began, I remember our failure, our fear too.

I remember how fear has held many people back.

We have all been here before, myself in particular, I have been held back by the fear of.

If it isn’t this, it’s that.

If it isn’t stormy days, then it’s the perfect tornado, rain, hail, all of them mashed up into an eye of a storm. Only that it’s coming for you.

The storm that fear allows.

Yet, you keep walking through the storm,

many you dare not speak of.

But I’ll try today because I know fear.

Know what it requires too. In fear, you will find sadness, frustration, sickness.

I have been there too.

Leaned so much into fear that it’s despair became normal.

I let fear usher in headaches, and stuffy nose and eyes that would rather close than see another day or night go bye.

Fear has pushed me to places that I have never been too, thoughts dark, and spaces equally dark.

Fear let dark valleys become like shadows of death like Psalm 23 forewarned.

Fear has taken me to the dark all sorts of dreary places in need of light.

And even as I leaned into fear, feared fear too, fear took me, through the dark to light.

Reminded me that if there were no darkness, there will be no light.

I learnt that the moment I arrived at the home of fear. I saw that even in sickness or pain, fear will welcome you in with arms so wide that all you need to do is nestle your head at its bosom.

Plant your feet by its streams and let your body rest in its arms like a baby.

My heart, my soul, my body and my mind too, all of us has snuggled deeply into fear.

We meet you all today, greet you too with these opening words out of fear.

Wondering what today would be like.

Would we truly bring light?

Are we sure in the words of Toni Cade Bambara in her beautiful book, The salt eaters, that we want this light?

What happens when light never comes and all we still know when all is said and done is fear.

I meet you today in fear, knowing that even in fear, even in the darkness that I still feel for the journey ahead,

I can still expect more.

Like what is coming after this, nothing, or air or light, from all the speakers we have assembled for you all today.

Today requires, that we see fear, acknowledge its existence, and yet move past it to light.

So welcome to our annual LIGHT festival.

Our goal is to bring light even in the midst of our fears, your fears, and most importantly all of them with healing, my healing, your healing.

We bring light even as you question whether it is possible.

We bring light’s brightness, kindle, splendor, glow, fire, because this moment, past a pandemic where public health was rendered mute, requires it.

The fire we bring, all of the light, is work that cannot be done alone.

So I want to illuminate the implications of this work for you and for us all within the LIGHT team: It will be messy, it will be rough.

There will be threats to our peace, our sanity.

And fear will always be lurking around reminding us that we do not deserve this light.

All the inside pieces will frighten us, make us want to hide back in the dark.

But We cannot.

Not when our name is called LIGHT.

So this moment, meet LIGHT, just you all know the name implies.

Meet Leaders Igniting Generational Healing and Transformation.

I close in these words paraphrased from Audre Lorde, LIGHT alone will not protect us.

We are aware of this. But yet, we choose LIGHT because our field requires the public to be heard.

We choose LIGHT to clarify and to be as eloquent as possible, that the public in public health matters.

We choose LIGHT because with the advent of today, we have learnt to work and speak when we are afraid.

Even though we respected fear, we choose LIGHT because we refuse for the weight of darkness, the weight of not letting the public into public health, we refuse for the weight of their silence to keep choking us.

The fact that we are here, the fact that we meet today, is to bridge some of these differences between us,

for it is not our difference which keeps the public in the dark, it’s our silence.

And for that reason, welcome to our attempt at breaking the public’s silences for too long.

Welcome to this space we call LIGHT.

What a day! Thank you to everyone who made this year a success.

The air tonight is magical and free. Dark skies light up the night as I sit waiting for words to say of this moment together. Maybe it’s the gentle breeze. It’s so soft. I am afraid the air won’t linger through the night. Then I recall your voice, the sweet communion of our embrace. You allow us to step into an oasis of light, brighter than the distant moon. I know that we were never meant to linger long together. But now we do as the softness of you is magical and free.

Today, I dwelled among some fine people. Poets, storytellers, researchers, humans committed to the light, the beauty of our humanity. And they all glistened, smiled as they glistened. Finer than silver moons. Oozing words, delicious words, as juicy as the sweetest berries. Of ways humanity will flourish because we loved us, loved our coming together too, loved our light too. Today I dwelled among some fine people. But truly, they dwelled in 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.

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.

One of my favorite magazines of late is Breathe. It’s optimism infused with wellness, kindness, mindfulness and inspirations actually helps me breathe. I usually have it by my nightstand and every now and then I pick it up to become focused on what matters for me. Today, creativity that cures. Finding opportunities for self care, opportunities for life care, is my crusade these days and of course writing it as these lists helps me get through each day. For me writing each day, whether short or long, whether research or not, helps me stay grounded, helps me focus on being human. We don’t practice real writing anymore for the sake of simply writing. I believe that every time I write, I am getting better at my own self care, getting better at my life care simply because I choose to breathe.

Light slowly starts to seep in, during:

Moments of intense smear, turned

Moments of intense fear, which birth

Moments of intense tear, that lead to

Moments of intense here and now, of

Moments of intense revere, that opened

Moments of intense clear, for you,

As your light slowly starts to seeps in.

Keep these moments of light.