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.

The words rise up. I note them. They come on their own, with their own nodes, own goals, that unfold one note at a time. They come with their own meaning everytime. I am obedient to the sounds that flow, the insights that grow, within minds long in need to ignite, in need of light. I am light. Like a tree that grows higher, and higher, branching out in different directions, like thick branches with lush green leaves full of water. I am green. I sit, listen, and let the words sway like trees on a windy day after hurricanes that stroke with water-like canes. Still these tree rise up and grow. For where trees grow, water flows. I am water. So to are my words. I have been discovering for the past year that where words flow, stories flow. I am stories. For one year, the stories in my mind, in spaces and boxes I once carved as private, have been flowing like a river. I am a river. A naturally flowing river, in search of an ocean, or a sea, a lake or another river. I have arrived at my destination. Words are my water, collected now in a river that flowed through a complex meandering path I called keep lists. There were no short paths. Every thing that mattered were loosened and dislodged like the rocks along the sides of river beds. I became loose with words that deepened my riverbed, eroded my hard phases, and elevated my soft places, all with grace. I am grace. An amazing grace, once blind but now open to all the spaces that make me whole. I poured myself into this space, poured my soul to the possibilities of this phase, of writing something to keep, words to keep, in a list to mold and shape as my own, in a list to own. And through this list, my words became fast-flowing. A source of energy, of life. I became soaked in the opportunities and form of each word, each list of things to keep. I am a list.

I have been reading a lot lately about lists, about why people use them in the first place. Most people write lists, to-do lists for example, to stay organized. Some write lists to stay in control, ticking things off when completed or moving things around to track completion. The first time I saved a list was in the middle of the pandemic. There were nothing to do with my lists. Nothing to track or even complete. My lists were focused on what to keep. A keep lists of experiences. The only objective: to write one list a day. The list was expected to make sense of life as a mother, a black working mother in academia with four children, one born in the fifth month of the pandemic. There were no organization necessary. No length was too long. Or to short. Everything was allowed in the lists. My thoughts, the news, my work, my family. Writing long lists was gratifying. So too were short ones that cut right to core. But lists about meaningfully people in my life, like my children, my students, my mentors, even the experiences of my husband on the frontlines or the last days with my sister in-law and her battle with cervical cancer were extra fulfilling. The pandemic and it’s impact were intense for all families. It was also equally frustrating, equally challenging, yet equally mesmerizing, and equally joyful. Not for the illness it brought or the deaths or sorrow it left behind, but for the discoveries, unexpected ones, like making a list, a virtual keeplists of time in a pandemic. There were no end in sight too. The pandemic held us all in a tight grip. And so the list grew and moved beyond the pandemic itself to capture life as we lived it one day at a time, all to preserve and protect all that mattered in a time where living was truly fragile.

Today marks the one year anniversary of this list. Words still do not fail me. They have become my everything, my hope, my joy, my hurdles, but yet my triumphs. I thank all of you that have read anything I wrote here. I thank you for coming on this journey with me. There is still no end in sight. Only that where my words still flow, my stories will surely flow.

I asked myself today, a question most mothers ask themselves everyday. How the hell do you do this? Today was the first time in close to three weeks I had a day to myself. Not an entire day, more like four hours for me. I have been running a nonstop marathon even with kids in school. A little after they all went back to school in mid August, they all became sick, one after the other. We thought it was Covid, took a test and it wasn’t. Just a nasty viral bug that meant sleepless nights and restless days. It all finally cleared up over the weekend and today, even my one year old went back to daycare. Just as I left his daycare, I took a deep breath and asked myself those seven letter words, that many mothers ponder everyday. My eyes immediately greeted Dahlia’s planted outside the daycare. A symbol of best wishes. It was as if it wanted to offer some to me. To wish me well at this moment I called my own. How does it swirl in this way I asked, with finely carved petals, that hang together neatly, as if painted by hand. I stopped and stared at them for a brief moment, took in the air and said a little thank you. How the hell do I do it? By his grace. His sheer grace. I am nothing on my own. I shudder to think that I can go through life on my own. We are not meant to do this thing called life alone. That’s how I do it. By his grace and it’s truly sufficient for me.

The new school year is in full swing. A note to myself: Take it easy. Remember you are not really in competition with anyone but yourself. Hidden within the commandment love your neighbor as yourself, is the need to love yourself first. Without which I am sorry for your neighbor. So love yourself this new school year. Whatever you want to do, however you want to do it as well, do. It’s your ride and race. This thing called life. Here today, gone tomorrow. And the world would move on as if you never existed. So yes, take it easy or take am jeje, as pidgin English would suggest. Life na jeje after all.

For them, I will be taking life easy. (Shot by my 4 year old).

No need attending anything too you don’t feel like or liking anything you attend. To be of use, to yourself first, to those you love, like these little boys and a growing little girl that needs a present mother, a loving and gentle one too is all that matters. Life Na jeje after all. No need overdoing anything or letting anything overdo you. It’s just a thing afterall and you matter. All of you. If the thing is going to lower your vibrations or take you down a path worth avoiding, then don’t go. Only go towards things that lift your vibrations up, challenge you too to do more than you can ever hope or imagine. Move towards things that let you remain in light. With grace and beauty too, take the time to become the light you were and are destined to be come in your own way, your own pace. This life Na jeje after all. Finally no need being in spaces that don’t value your many phases. We all change. A blue sky turns grey in a twinkle of an eye. Plants too and trees. So how much less all of us humans. So need being in spaces that don’t understand what it means to change. You will change. You have changed through this past year alone and I expect more change to come your way as you embrace this phase of your life. Afterall, even this phase of your life Na je je with all you have to care for.

To be of use to them, will require you to be of use to yourself, take an easy, don’t attend what you don’t want to attend, don’t do anything you don’t want to and don’t be in spaces that don’t value all of your phases. This life Na je je and as the new school year begins in full swing, take am easy is my keep.

What’s your story? I have been struggling with this lately. A friend called me out too. Said I call myself a storyteller but struggle with each story I tell. There was some truth to it. I write and stop writing. I tell stories and stop telling them. Not because I don’t want to write or tell my story but because of distractions. There have been a lot this year. Broken pipes, cancer, death. It’s only August. What my story? It’s still unfolding, not sure if the world deserves it yet too. But I’ll keep trying to tell whatever story I can. It’s a beautiful struggle too.

We started the new school year today. We started full of hope for what lies ahead. We expect the pandemic to continue raging on. We expect debates on mask wearing to keep waging on too. While, I am so glad homeschooling has finally come to an end, I remain apprehensive as the pandemic isn’t coming to an end. I also wonder whether this is the right thing to do for kids who expect us to keep then safe till the end. My kids were happy to be back to school. Most parents I watched were too, part happy, part longing for them to remain close by, but thankful they are also gone. My daughter talked about butterflies in her stomach for the new school year. There were butterflies and balloons on school grounds welcoming them back to school. The pandemic took a lot from them last year. Here is to hoping for brighter days ahead, gentler days too. One that will allow our children to remain children, despite this never ending pandemic.

At the heart of our mystery as women is creativity. We literally give birth to new beings, new life. We finds ways to birth other things too, like writing for me lately or jewelry making, a reoccurring hobby of mine. To be able to make something, is to live life to the fullest, to live it also open, to new ways, new ideas, even new experiences. I have been learning to embrace each new cycle, every twist and turn, life throws my way, with words that are flowing faster than I even share on the blog. The ask for myself has always been at least one keep a day. I did so to keep myself in check. Writing more than one comes easy these days, though I still stick to the one keep a day principle.

Which brings me back to this idea of creativity. I am loving this process of using words to get through the most difficult experience I have experienced this year. I know and expect death. We all have to leave one day. The prayer I ask is that we leave surrounded by love, supported by love, secured in love. It’s the gift of a lifetime to see love manifested in this way. To feel it, even embrace it is truly magnificent. The purest forms of it, I am learning isn’t when you exchange vows in public. It isn’t when we have big celebrations or dance until our feet are weary. The purest form of love I am learning are during the birth of a child and during the experience of death. I have gone through birth 4 times to know that each process of bringing forth new life, is unapologetically profound and full of joy. Though we scream and shout and push, the gift of a baby in one’s arms evokes feelings that words cannot fully capture. I cry all the time. The tears keep flowing as I watch in awe of our gift of creation. It’s a gift I will forever treasure as long as I live. A gift that I remain grateful to have experienced 4 times.

The birth our baby #3. (Fun fact, this was the only baby that Dad brought into the world with his hands: we literally created and brought him to the world together).

Then there is the other extreme of life. The experience of death. I have also been here before with distinct experiences that ushered tears in my eyes. I remember my first experience with death. It was my grandma and I was 13 years old. The week prior to her death was eerily similar to my sister in law’s death. She too was surrounded by love, supported by loved and secured in love. We watched her as she slipped in and out of consciousness the Sunday before her death. We poured water on her face and she came back to herself. It happened so fast that she asked why were we crying and why was she all wet, oblivious to what she just put us through. For the rest of the week, it was as if she was in a celebratory mood. I remember receiving money from her that Tuesday evening following the Sunday incident, stating that I should purchase drinks for everyone in the house. Her request was strange as we had no cause for celebration. But I obliged and got the drinks for everyone. She kept insisting that we should be happy and celebrate life always. I nodded my teenage head and went on my way.

By Friday morning, around 7 am or so, she began to slip out of consciousness again. She was wearing a light blue flowery night dress with white buttons from the top to the bottom. The radio was playing ‘I surrender all.’ I remember this distinctively as I was in the room. She was waving her hands in the air as if she was praying. It was the last song she listened too. A befitting one, seeing as though she was slipping away from this world to the next. I pray to surrender, and freely give all to him when my time arrives. They rushed her to the hospital. I stayed behind expecting things to get better. I even shamefully picked up her Naira laying on her bed and got some butterscotch for myself as I waited. By the time, they returned from the hospital, the blue night dress was all they came home with. Mama has died was all I heard. I knew at that moment what death meant. There were no preparations, no warning, just tears that kept flowing. The presence of her absence was so unbearable.

I still see her bed, all the pictures of her children and grand children on the wall. I still see her staring at the window or from the balcony whenever anyone came to our house. It’s been close to 25 years since her death. This November 8th, would make it 25. Yet, I remember this day as if it was today. Death has the power to let memories of those you love and lost linger for years to come. It’s creative power is unmatched as it has the final word on how the story ends, how the music lasts or how the picture of our lives are illustrated. I am learning that once more now that I find myself surrounded by it again. To witness it’s last stroke is to witness the creativity inherent in all of us. We all come into this world with unmatched creativity that continues to baffle humanity. When our time is up, we will leave as well with this same creativity that no expert can vividly illustrate. Yet we cannot mourn or live as people with no hope, rather their is a gift even as we try to cope. No father or mother would gift the life they created stone when they ask for things. But rather, they would gift us all we ask. In times of despair, his plans are always good.

I am leaning on these words knowing that the ultimate creator would not give me more than I cannot handle even as I create or make sense of this experiences with words that flow these days with ease. This is the second of 2 essays I wrote just this morning alone. It’s the ultimate consolation. To still be able to create even in the middle of a loss so painful. I choose to keep this one because creativity is the ultimate gift. Keep it for yourself always.

She opened her eyes yesterday and started to cry. Being so close to death will make you sob for all you are leaving behind. Like your mother. A mother’s love is beyond these words I use to write. Beyond this air we even breathe. A mother’s love is life. To be so close to death, and see your mother, really hurts. She cried because she saw the one who first loved her. She cried because it wasn’t suppose to be this way. No daughter should go before her mother. No child should leave before the one who first birthed them. No one should even be this close, while the one who named you, formed you, nurtured you, and loved every single fiber of your being remains. It really hurts to be here. And so she cried all morning, not for herself, but for her mother. The woman who first loved her.

To listen to her retell this story, to hear her mother remember this encounter, to even listen to the calmness of her voice as she told the one she first formed to stop crying, didn’t only break my heart, but made it explode. I feel into a deep sleep right after our conversation, hoping for this dream of a lifetime to slowly dissipate, and for things to slowly return back to the delicate balance we call life. By the time I woke up, it wasn’t a dream. This is our reality, and every single moment we breathe together is truly daring. I am learning about the necessary power of love. This four letter words that demands we say it to those we reserve it for, every single moment we have air to breathe. It’s that precious, those four letters that spell love. I am learning about what it truly means with every single day we have on earth. It isn’t as the movies portrays it. There are no happy endings, no riding away to the setting suns, or twirling around in grassy fields. Love is shockingly frightening when you come so close to death. To do it justice, to even reserve it to words, defies what it truly symbolizes.

I am learning, that it involves feeling so helpless even though you have tried everything for the one whose life has tainted the air you breathe. I have been here before, watching once as my grandmother slept, checking every single breathe, for it meant, our love remained. To be here again, to breathe your air of love, to listen as tears flow from your eyes, as words fail to come out, moves me once more beyond words. Love is a being, a radical being that shows you how to find your way back home to the one who formed you when all else seems to fail. To be so lost in it these days, to listen as a mother and a daughter exchange it as best as they could, is the purest form of humanity which to me personifies why a mother’s love, will forever be supreme.

A mother’s love begins with the one we first formed. Me and my Belle.

Nneka is what we call this in Igbo, what we reserve for those we love, those we named and formed, in all their humanity, in sickness or in health. To witness the power of a mother’s love, it’s being, keeps me rising up for those I formed and named in love. For them, I urge you to keep love completely. It’s bigger than what people use to try to dominate you. The love you reserve for those you love should remain utterly untouched by them. A mother’s love is how I choose to escape from their darkness to light these days, entirely unscathed by their ways. Keep nurturing it, even in these vile moments, even when you come close to death. For a mother’s love will always remain supreme. Always!