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.

I stand surrounded by many whirling elements.

Thunder, storms, fire, ice.

All surround me.

I stand neither consumed nor protected.

Just looking, seeing, waiting, writing.

The things I have seen, while writing.

The stories are plentiful.

Rejection. I know it too well. My soul has known the sting of being dismissed. We have bones scattered with this, though we stand.

Failure. Well, Lord knows I know it’s key ingredients and can make a tasty meal out of it. The coils of it have coiled around my neck, choking me, though I learnt how to spit it out too.

Silence. This one has never protected me. I keep learning that every day. So many of us are transforming it to action.

Light. My middle name. The only thing I come to with full vigor, gathering words, like lamp, to light my path. Declaring too, “Let there be Light.” Perhaps when you know you are light, you know you cannot be hidden. In your light they see light.

That is why it is full of grace to be so young, so gifted, and it is equally divine to do so, being Black, to be young, gifted and Black.

The world isn’t waiting for you.

Not today.

So do whatever you want.

For me, words.

I intend to write as I please, write about the world as I see it, write about what I hope it was, and write about what it must be.

Or there will be no world. Not for me, not for you, and definitely not for the next generation.

So I will write.

About beginnings I care about, some I found, where they called us wild, used bits, and whipped our backs, and somehow we learned to fly.

I will write to a point, continue to work hard at it, for I care about it.

I will also write about our people, write to tell their stories, write to uncover their rejections, their failures, their silence, their light.

I cannot pass this up.

Something glorious is happening.

I intend to perfect it.

These words were inspired by Lorraine Hansberry. It’s hard to imagine what she might have contributed had she lived longer.

Here is a woman born in Chicago in 1930, dead by 1965 at the age of 34, but nevertheless became the first Black woman to have her play produced by Broadway and the first Black winner of the prestigious Drama Critics award, something she won at age 29.

That play ‘A Rasin in the Sun,’ remains the most widely produced and read play by any Black American woman.

In ‘Looking for Lorraine,’ Imani Perry described her as ‘a woman intoxicated by beauty and enraged by injustice.’ She was also passionate about amplifying the voices of Black people.

One of my favorite aspects of her life is the ‘To be Young, Gifted, and Black’ speech she delivered to the winners of a United Negro College Fund writing contest.

This speech would set the stage for her play by the same name adapted by her husband after her death in 1969. Nina Simone also performed a song of the same name that year. This sterling woman is my muse for today and inspiration for the verses above. I hope you know wherever you are, that you should always keep being young, gifted and Black.

Lorraine Hansberry’s speech, To be Young, Gifted and Black.

It was Lorraine Hansberry that said once to a friend that she wished to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful and that which to love. Therefore since she has known all of these things, she has found them to be reason enough and so she wished to live. As I reflect on these words, I too realize that I wish to live, not only for that which is good, that which is beautiful and that wish is love. I want all of that, but to them I also add that I wish to live to know that which is joy. I see it in my baby’s eye every times our eyes connect. More than love alone, there is unbridled joy when 2 minds connect, 2 souls connect. Slowly, every word spoken and unspoken are our way of knowing, an extension of myself beyond myself, as told by the joy we both have for each other. I wish to live to bask in this joy forever, to sustain each other, and continue to remain with each other long after our space on earth. Yesterday, we remembered my father who passed away 12 years ago on January 23rd. Here was a man for whom his joy for me had no limit. I saw it always in his eyes and in the ways he spoke and uplifted me. He would tell me the world was mine for the taking, take it and go as far as you can. I miss him terribly. I see him still this time through my children. Their eyes share the joy my father gave to me as a little girl and because of them, I wish to live to know this joy always. Joy to me, along side, all that is good, all that is beautiful and all that is love are reasons enough to live. And like Lorraine, I wish to live.