Born in the year of a pandemic, I remember when he started to crawl. He crawled as if he was ready to walk. He walked when he turned 9 months. He has been walking ever since. Late last month, we started to remove all the protective features around our stairs. By this month, we removed all of them. We had quite a few and the thought of a fall was forever on our minds. I knew we would get here one day. Just didn’t want the day to come so soon. Watching him grow has been everything. Now my baby walks up and down the stairs all on his own. He has mastered the stairs too all on his own. And that’s a feat worth celebrating. This is also what it means to be a toddler. Every aspect of his being, full and free. Wisdom he never knew now blossoms through his life with delight. Watching as he follows directly in its path even with walking up and down the stairs is a prayer answered fully. There is no end to your treasures and like an olive tree you are loaded with fruits that will continue to tower to the clouds with every step you take, even up and down these stairs. Keep moments like this.

I am raising a boy whose on the spectrum. He is becoming more than I ever dreamed of. More than I ever hoped for. More than I ever thought he would become. He is also doing it his way. Sometimes his ways are out of sight. We are all astound. Here is a boy that barely said a word at 3. A boy for whom meltdowns were all he knew. Until things changed. I still pinch myself as I have not really taken the time to truly uncover all we did in the beginning. And we did a lot.

If you told me back then that we would get to this place one day, I would not believe you. He was kicked out of his first school at age 2 after attending for 2 days. The odds were completely against us. My own child was kicked out of school before he could say his name. I still remember crying by myself that day wondering where to begin. I remember calling a helpline for special needs kids in Georgia that day too. The person on the other line had to have been an Angel. After briefly chatting with her calming me down, she asked what we both did for a living. I said I was a researcher and dad was a resident in neurology. Her response, I wouldn’t worry to much about your son then. I asked why. She said because we would both use our gifts for him and that’s more than most kids on the spectrum would have. Looking back, she was right. When we learnt through research that a drug for cancer had speech properties, my son was on it. When he had a series of nonstop laughing episode, and my husband remembered something about the brain and laughter, my son’s brain was observed via EEG which uncovered mini seizures while he slept. Our gifts were indeed useful for him.

Today at age seven, I keep pinching myself every time I have a heart to heart with him or watch as he reads a book. These days Dog man’s series are all he knows. All he is obsessed about. That he reads makes my heart swell. His ways are still forming, still making sense of this world, still stimming, still repeating things that make no sense, still involves play that makes no sense too, but all of it, all his ways are perfect by design. These days, I would not trade any of this for any sense of normalcy. Not with him. He is perfect by design and even when he tries, all his ways are good. It’s the smallest things with him, the hugs, the meltdowns too, all of them combine, remind me just how blessed we are as a family. To be in the midst of a child on the spectrum is a blessing. One that I am extremely thankful I got to witness with my own eyes. Today he is in a Christmas play in school. The boy who barely spoke at 2, was kicked out of school at 2 as well, is in a play at school at 7. His ways remain out of sight with great days and days with good tries. The sky is not a limit and I remain hopeful for what the future will bring his way.

I woke up today full. Find you a sisterhood and you will find life. We have been in STL for 4 years now and life still feels very transient until last night. We have always moved around the 2-4 year mark so for the first time it feels strange to have no plans to leave the state of Missouri. I said that out loud to myself yesterday. Midwest is now home. As I let that realization settle in, I looked at my surroundings. I looked at the people gathered at the table I joined last night. I was in the midst of some powerful women and we were all black, all mothers, all ambitious, and all sterling. I watched us all in awe. A passerby said the same thing as if reading my mind. His words ‘this is beautiful.’ I agree. They say food eaten in secret tastes better. I also agree. But better isn’t up to us alone. Better can’t happen in a vacuum. We are stronger together. Much better when we come together. And black women together makes the world better. If you heard all we shared together last night, heard our plans to make things we value better, you will understand. This is my keep for today.

Our community.

When black women come together, we come as a better version of ourselves. We come to carry water. We come to forget the edge of the sea as we dive deeply into each other. We come to whisper through water too, fierce words that heal, that nurture, that uplift or part dead seas. We come knowing we do not know. We come looking for ourselves and seeing ourselves, even when soaked in water. We come afraid to look too, but looking together in fear. We come to have sisters on our side and our cup overflows. We come to listen and listen and listen. We of course come to talk and talk and talk and share tea. We come out of the fullness of grace as grace alone makes us full. We come knowing we are blessed and prepared to bless each other even more with our blessings like rivers and springs that gush out into valleys and hills. We come fighting for our children, pushing for their voice, their visibility in a land that would rather they remain invisible. Not with us. We are like fishes and we know how to use water. Even better, we come knowing now more that ever that we are water. We have no enemies where are life, our families, our work, our children are concerned. We come with the blessings of walking on water when storms rage. We come with the stillness too of knowing whose we are, even while on stormy seas. We come knowing that even though the darkness all around is so deep, we are willing to push through light, ready to walk on water too. We come because our brilliance are like the silver of moonlight, the brilliance of starry skies even on nights where strong winds blow. We come filling our lives with light, leaving too in a dazzling light that wind and waves obey. We come because coming together as a community, as one, is a basic necessity of life, our life. In the end, our eyes are deep in water and together we sail through because doing together with each other is a beautiful thing. Keep a sisterhood of black women wherever you find them. We really make the world better.

Words call us, we go. A blurry thought, uncertain notes, hopelessly we stroll until meaning becomes clear, becomes us. Today we sat patiently trying to wait for words to come. It took a while. Children were crying. Hearts were weary but souls were full from a reunion a pandemic almost denied. We waited for the words to come, to express how we felt for we where thankful, full of thanks for a day that kept giving, spilling into another day that continues to give. Then the word ‘serious’ leapt across our mind. We questioned its intent, waited even for the discontent. ‘Serious’ what are we supposed to do with you. Then we remembered, being together is a serious matter. Being with family even in the middle of a pandemic is serious. The terrible stories we could have told are blunted because we did together seriously. So as we settle in, as we bask in the glory of yesterday, the majesty of today, and the hope for tomorrow, we know that together will always remain serious for us. Thanksgiving with people like us is a serious matter and we intend to keep it so.

Mama returned home today. About two months after the greatest heart-wrenching ordeal, the longest mutterings of sorrow, of hearts completely in despair. Our hearts are still broken, still shattered in pieces. But seeing the glimmer in her eyes, made it clear; we would get through this deepest darkness. And the darkness is so deep, still so raw, and still so full of pain, as if we lost Angie yesterday. Nothing will ever change all we know. That Angie should be here. That her death shouldn’t be. That her living is all we know, all we hoped for, all we still long for. To know death, is to know a longing that time still can’t heal.

We’ve contemplated why her fire dimmed, asked how we missed the signs, wondered when we will ever meet. I still have plenty unanswered questions for her. The valleys of our pain, to feel it, to know this emptiness skillfully threading around our edges, is to know the bottom of a well, so deep, so hollow.

We know there is light above. We see it, feel it even, but here in this darkness lies our pain, our sorrow for a life gone too soon. They call it cancer, we call it, a dying sun, contemplating even why a sun dies too. We are still in mourning, burning with passion for a new morning, one where we will gloriously lift our selves from this sorrow. Lotanna made a card, to welcome mama home. She decorated it with pink crinkled paper flowers and blue ribbons. It made mama smile. We are all sorry about Angie. We all welcomed mama home.

My children give me permission to dream as I watch black birds fly across cloudy skies. Permission to win as we celebrate my Belle dominating sports today. Permission to write about our favorite things like Andy’s frozen custard or our favorite place, Drace Park. Permission to laugh about silly things like would you kneel or knit a hat (the idea of kneeling had us all laughing). Permission to sing, like just the two of us (Lotanna and I’s favorite song) and how we will make it because we tried. Permission to learn about spelling words like believe for my girl, retell for Boy 1 and mommy for Boy 2. Permission to sing of how this little light of ours will shine with no intentions of being hidden. Permission to speak up even when being brave. Permission to live, on my own terms and in my own way. Permission to be my best self, with keeping what matters. Permission to connect with what makes me whole, like them, their aura and vibrant personalities. Permission to create my own inner light, as I push through one keep at a time.

In the span of 49 minutes, in the early hours of this morning, while reading Derrick Bell’s ‘Faces at the Bottom of the Well,’ I had changed my sons diaper twice, given him a bath once. He was suffering from a bout of diarrhea and I was hoping he would go back to sleep so I read in peace. Eventually he slept off just as I finished reading the second chapter on Afrolantica Awakening. It was the awakening that has been burning inside me, manifested through the words of Derrick Bell in the second chapter of his book.

The idea of Afrolantica seemed profound, not as a concept but more so for it’s possibilities, it’s liberation. Imagine what can happen when you move towards light. That to me is the premise of this chapter. The idea of working together, planning together also, for our collective liberation. We have all been enslaved for too long. Our minds have bought into certain ways deemed appropriate, even acceptable for too long, that the idea of being different, the idea of even moving in different cycles is an aberration. In the meantime, there is freedom for all, if we all work together to liberate ourselves, if we all pool ourselves resources to free ourselves from the shackles that continue to enslave our minds.

In Afrolantica, you find an awakening. You also find uniformity of support, opposition for majority, but defiant determination from those with ready to oppose the oppressors. We can all bear witness to the greatest gift we have nestled inside ourselves if we move towards this awakening, RBI’s ability to free ourselves. That’s the lesson I am taking away with this chapter. The idea that neither grief or despair can diminish what we already possess: an awakening. Not of places, or even phases, or even people, but of our minds. It will always be worth it when you take the courageous step to liberate your mind, to unlearn all that once occupied your mind, to act on your own, with a mind free from oppression.

Afrolantica is an awakening so inspiring, so liberating. An awakening full of deep satisfaction, deep cooperation too. An awakening of what we already possess, what is inherent in all of us. An awakening for those looking for something better, those willing to try even if they don’t find it. An awakening full of truth, full of knowledge of ways to act on our own. An awakening for our own kind of people, our own kind prepared to glow in collective confidence, flow in self-confidence too. An awakening grounded in the spirit of participation, engagement too, not as one, but a collective fighting for generations upon generations. An awakening whose very foundation will spread to others far and wide. An awakening that recalls the tenacity for human life, the tenacity to survive all efforts to dehumanize or obliterate thousands of people that look like you and me. An awakening so infectious that it burns a fire this time, for a generation with renewed tenacity. An awakening this generation knows we possess so well, the tenacity of those that came before us. An awakening we will hold on to, an awakening you should hold on to: that one day, somewhere in the world, a generation will rise up too, to showcase what they know they actually possess, that their minds too are liberated, and somehow, someway, they too will work to move generations towards light. This is the awakening we have all being waiting for and this generation is prepared for the journey towards Afrolantica.

The kids were jumping on the trampoline. I was amazed by how far we have come. Baby was strolling gingerly towards them and away from them, in his yellow green shirt that read how he was a ‘little man with big plans.’ He truly was. Today’s plans, dirt and all sorts of ways to become one with dirt. Dreams of one day jumping on the trampoline too we’re on his mind. On this first day of Fall, in the second year of a pandemic that ceases to end, I am sitting here staring at how far my family and I have come. Baby is still walking back and forth towards his siblings jumping on a trampoline and away from them. A cool breeze, so gentle like a baby’s kiss, gently kisses my face this evening. Everything seems sterling to me. The green of the grass. The blue of skies. Even the white of clouds have a certain aura to them that personifies my aura these days. I am walking in light and there is no turning back. My mother-in law spent her days during the early parts of summer tending to a garden. It was also her way of coping with the illness of her only daughter that would come to do consume our entire summer. Today I stared deeply at how her garden continues to flourish, continues to remain glorious, even in her absence. Angie would have been proud of her. Angie would have loved her light.

African Greens from our garden

We all know light when we see it. Light is peace. It is peace for the mother, the wife, the teacher, the daughter, the sibling, the awakened public, suddenly rising from their comatose state. Luminescent, incandescent, glistening, hers, that glow with a light within are trouble for tortured souls, trouble for those who prefer chaos. And the world is a chaotic place, violent place too, for those rearing and resting in darkness, sly racists too who prefer their structural violence rather than the power of roaring lioness. Still, like a lioness, I choose light for its aura, it’s brilliance, it’s chink, it’s dazzle, it’s ethereal, it’s fire, it’s gleamer, it’s halo, it’s illumination, it’s jewel, it’s kindle, it’s luminosity, it’s morn, it’s nature, it’s optical, it’s prism, it’s queer, it’s radiance, it’s spark, it’s twinkle, it’s upbeat, it’s vividness, it’s wave, it’s x-factor, it’s yellow, it’s zenith. Certain openings for light visited on people are so blazing, so lustrous, so airy, so zestful, so effortless that it must be protected at all cost. It’s not a gift. It’s a necessity. For a city, a people, built on light cannot be hidden. Blaze your light and keep it too at all cost.

I have been writing and deleting the start of an imaginary book yet unwritten. As if afraid to walk into my moonlight. Yet, fear is the last thing on my mind. So I keep writing. I call it ‘Black Mom Light.’ A coming-of age memoir for rising as a black mom from darkness to light. An anti-racist memoir on being a black mother in today’s America. I also call it ‘Brown Mom Listing.’ The second name is from Jacqueline Woodson ephemeral memoir in verse, ‘Brown Girl Dreaming.’ If her memoir were full of poems that were profound and moving, mine, are full of lists, a keep list, equally profound and captivating. I am obsessed with the style of her book that it inspired name number 2. I imagine my keeplists, what you read here every day as listing or the act of putting words, or stories into lists to keep. I also envision them as being focused on what truly matters and keeping that for myself, for yourself, for my people, for your people, for humanity. These lists span my days like a wide bridge, wild butterflies too, forever ready to spread their wings and fly, forever ready to move to new heights, to new places, so many wonders to see, in the words of my daughter, my forever muse.

The thought of what to keep, what to list each given day is a treasure for each passing day. They give me strength for days when none is left. They help me attend to other things too, like my other obsession, grant writing. Every lists carries my heart and my thoughts to somewhere. Maybe flowers. They are also my forever muse , forever brilliant, forever of use. Maybe trees. I have no names for all I see, but they too help me attend to all I need to do. Tall luscious trees and their graceful abundance are bound to make you dance as the make me dance. Maybe my children. My forever muse. Not a day goes by without being caught in their spell, their wants, their blissful gifts, that lift to new abyss. But hidden at the root of all I choose to keep is a desire for legacy, for light, for rising above what society says we should or must do as parents, as professors, as people. Yet for every thing I keep, there are some I still don’t share here. Some written even at the same time. Like the one written right before I shared this one. Those ones are part of what I describe as my extraordinary lists. We are all extraordinary people in the end. No one else exists as me, with thoughts like mine. I would rather I live life in extraordinary ways than ways destined to be ordinary. I wasn’t made of ordinary. So this list is my attempt at that. One keep at a time. The destination remains unknown. We are moving beyond the rigidness of your vision. If this is our first meeting. Welcome. The vision for this keeplist is extraordinary. Every list is in place of the vision society may have for women like me. A keep of sorts, of conversations we are not having, of refusals to be silent. This woman maybe black or brown. But her voice is shrouded in light and with each day, she walks out into moonlight to touch her power.