Every now and then, I come across poetry that is arch and precise.

Some focused on the sublime that is our sublime, like the earth that is our earth.

And when I seat and mediate on the words, reflect too on the light they carry, I am pushed to carry this light too.

Knowing there is light in the light that is out there.

Certain words I read, stay with me, like notes to black women, moving and free.

Toni Morrison’s letter ‘A knowing so deep’ is one. Gwendolyn Brooks musings to Black women, is another.

I especially love these lines: ‘where there is cold silence.’ Think about it for a moment.

If you are Black and woman, moving and free, whether in academic settings or medical settings, in politics or any other setting, silence will be your companion.

Yet, despite it, prevail. My second favorite word in Gwendolyn Brooks’s musing.

Prevail. Black woman. Prevail.

I hear these words in Brook’s voice, and the voice of my mother, my grandmother and a generation of other women, a long line of them, I met and never met. They keep reminding me each day to prevail.

I was born around the same time a dearly beloved older woman in my family passed. Reincarnated to fulfill her previous life desires. Her full story remains unknown but when days get dark or dreary and work seems insurmountable, I hear her voice, which sound like mine, reminding me always to prevail. So I do.

I prevail. Through days full of polished tears. I prevail. Through hollow days with no rest. I prevail. Across a room full of questioning stares. I prevail. And even when they pry without care. I prevail.

Where there is cold silence. I’ll prevail. Through brilliant clouds. I’ll prevail. Through vigorous moon. I’ll prevail. And when nothing else matters. I’ll still prevail. Knowing that their silence will still be cold. Yet, I’ll prevail. When confrontations are startling and many. I’ll prevail. Even where there are no hurrays or handshakes or smiling faces. I’ll still prevail. All because large countries remain in eyes that still long to create and train flowers. For this reason, we shall continue to prevail in a light that is our light. See the sun, see it there shining in all it’s glory. There, exactly there, lies a Black woman who has learnt how to prevail. When they come for her and they will come in a silence that is cold. Prevail, you shrewd sun. Prevail and still prevail.

That’s the message Gwendolyn Brooks wants all Black women to know written years ago but still so poignant and relevant. It was a joy to rewrite this for today’s Black women. Keep prevailing wherever you are. And see the original piece below.

Original piece by Gwendolyn Brooks

In today’s America, Black girls are an endangered species. Often times their humanity whether on display or not, for themselves or things as insignificant as flies, are ignored, denied, our outright destroyed. Many also fail to see the light they carry, chose to resist their light, or work to diminish their light. Such was the case of Bobbi, a little girl in NJ whose neighbor choose to report her to authorities rather than see the goodness of her humanity. Rather than giving him the the last word, I wrote the following to celebrate her worth and all those that celebrated her essence like what Dr. Ijeoma Opara did to make her dazzle over at Yale yesterday. Keep these musings for Black girls like Bobbi.

Dear Bobbi,

I imagine the world would be kind to girls like you. I Imagine they would treat you better than flies. Be it house or lantern flies. I imagine they would see you too. Know you and learn about what makes you smile in the morning or laugh in the middle of a movie night. I imagine they would care for you the same way they care for trees, or trash or neighbors or anything else with humanity they see. I imagine all this for you in a world large enough for you and them. But then, I remember that betrayal is their arch nemesis, while you are still the rim of the world, light’s very own genesis.

Everything about you is so clear, that you shine like stars with an aura so rare. No wonder they choose to dim your divinity. Yet, still you shine and through your diligence, you showcase the best of our humanity. You are truly the apex of our times for eyes still blind to the sincerity of our lives even for flies that tried to diminish the peculiarity of your light. So we keep imagining this for them and ourselves. That one day, somewhere, girls and women, dark like you, even those unlike you, will come together in a common desire for the best of our humanity for the sake of our collective prosperity. They will see and no longer be blind to your rarity. They will learn and no longer be in dark to your luminosity. That all things bright and beautiful, those dark like night and diligent in all things whether for lives or flies, whatever we choose to do, will be met with the same love you displayed for the best of our humanity.

This is my hope for all girls and women dark like you, myself included. Otherwise, keep displaying your light with severity. Let their eyes endure your shine till infinity or their obscurity. Either way, show them what it means to be the dawn, so profound, that they shiver at the sight of your light so full. With all my love.

Keep these musings in celebration for all Black girls like Bobbi.

My daughter made art the other day. Her rendition of the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. In it there was a woman playing tennis dressed in a orange and yellow top and red and pink shorts. Her name was Jennifer Walker and according to my daugther, she had helped the US to victory with her 26th win. There were people at the stands cheering her one, but most importantly Jennifer looked like my daughter or any other brown or black girl with a keen interest in tennis.

I begin here simply to say representation matters, especially for little black and brown girls. Of course my daughter’s muse was Serena Williams and to see her depicted from my daughters lens is the reason for today’s keep. Eternal will Serena’s impact remain for many girls even now that she has retired.

Who says representation doesn’t matter, has never truly seen black and brown girls for all they are. For to see them, not just glance at them or walk past them. To see them is to see love. The uncharted kind, pure and free. The kind the overflows too for free. Love lives in there hearts for free. It begins there too for free. You see it from their hair follicles for free. Down to big brown and black eyes that tell tales for free. It’s in the way they smile for free. The kind that melts your heart because it’s free. They are also a door to souls truly free. Their laughter, or joy, a witness to these times for free. Spare and precious for free. Their love can walk through valleys for free. Press through mountains and wilderness for free. Seats of wisdom resides in their minds for free. Art, the kind that warms minds is yours through them for free. I have been moved by the voice they share for free. Moved too by the valley of tears that flow for free. My heart knows how they love for free. They dance and beat their own drums for free. Send me to paths uncharted for free. In them I find light that shines for free. One that I hope stay lit for the world to see for free. Even the thinnest ways you see them, today or tomorrow, is the engine that sustains many souls for free. Representation truly matters and I’m glad Serena gave these pearls for free.

My daughter’s art

Be open to the story changing. Anyone passing through life and never expecting things to change is simply passing. I am prepared to embrace life and all it brings including times and moments where things take a turn. That’s all. Keeping this here as a reminder to myself that it’s okay when things change. It’s okay when chapters close. Change is inevitable. Hard too. But it’s okay. I’m embracing this now for myself. Also open to how the story continues to unfold. Keep being open.

Image courtesy of SSM Health at STL. Beautiful art work along the corridor of the hospital.

I picked pieces of my broken self yesterday, ran through forest park windy paths, listened as scars fell off, watched too as a brown and black furry creature crawled off, the earth as I ran thinking, knowing that all things work together, even things I cannot see together, all blasting in ears and head weary like a feather, drowning in a terrible fear, but basking in all the throbbing pain and reminder of how his ways are so beyond me, even now when my head hangs so low, trying hard to run through forests, which once fed my soul, everything still the same, the windy paths, the bridge at the end of the first mile, all these things remind me of all the ways he continues to conspire to do things for my own good. I picked pieces of myself yesterday. The park’s windy paths were a witness to the day. The sky’s gentle ray falling on my head, reminding me still that I belong here, moving through paths that know too, we belong here.

The furry creature along my run through forest park.

After the first night, the beat in your heart, slowly finds its rhythm, slowly returns to its tempo, it was painful and sorrowful, nothing else to do, except to wait, not in limbo, not in doubt, but to pray and hope that the next day, would start like the one before, that the disappointments today, will fall off, from your head, and your heart, and you will move on, not before you notice, the start of something essential, the start of something still happening, even now, when you look up to the skies, look up to see the sun set again, look up to search the stars again for just one twinkle, for just one light, hoping still, that nothing will ever dim what he chooses to light again in you.

I woke up reading Psalm 19 and was struck by the opening sentence. The skies reveal every single thing we need to know about life. Nothing is ever hidden under the skies. Not our joys or our sorrows. Every single thing is plainly shown. I have also been here before, been in a rut where you begin to wonder how did this happen. I experienced a couple of firsts this week. One counter to my superstitions with the thing I love to do and another clearly my fault for relying on people. I am learning that somethings will have to be done his way, like the skies. I don’t expect everyone to understand why I do what I do. I am learning that more these days. But his ways are not my own. Some may dream and think they know how the end unfolds, but then comes the surprise and we are back remembering who started the journey in the first place. Everything is always for his glory. The skies reveal it. Question is whether we are looking up. If you do, then you will remember where help comes from. I am relying on your help for this one God.

Lucille Clifton once noted that ‘the surest failure is the unattempted walk.’ It was part of her poem entitled ‘Questions and answers.’ I am keeping this here because I have been walking through a path that feels so difficult that all I can keep doing is walking. So many times I wanted to quit. So many times I felt like why even bother. But I kept walking remembering this quote. What must it be like to keep walking when everything seems so against you? Pain, rough, but I keep walking knowing who leads me.

Illustration by Brian Pinkey

Here the leaves paint the skies brown, with hints of red still nestled next to all things green. Here all things are possible too, like changing seasons with temperatures unchanging for climate reasons. Either way, I am realizing you are me when I dream. These days I have been dreaming of all things possible, seeing that you can make trees bend, some all the way down, is the courage I use to stand up, bounce back up like trees. Knowing that it will all be worth it in the end, this strong purpose, you continue to teach, and I continue to learn. All I ask is that you keep stretching me beyond things that seem impossible.

So in love with these brisk Fall days.

I am maintaining perspective, knowing patience is no virtue, at least for me, everything tried this week, to stop the path he destined for me, forgetting too, that great is his mercy towards me, and that even what they may see, is bigger than what he imagines for me.

So I will not rage, though they came close to making me curse. Life doesn’t frighten me. I will not regret and I will only continue, knowing he is forever faithful towards me, always providing for me too, things I least expect, like how to be limitless, through barren places, in need of evergreen trees, between hills and valleys, without regret, without judgements, just remembrance of all the ways he holds me. My heart and soul says yes. Do with me what you will.

Poem by Maya Angelou.

We are in the homestretch of a grant that I will honestly say is the most difficult grant I have ever written. I say this all the time but this one was gut wrenching to the point of being sick. And why write grants that only serve to make you sick. When you have a plan in mind, when you know how limitless his plans are also for you, then will you understand the true meaning of Psalm 23. I saw dark valleys this week. Walked through them too. But he was there every step of the way, holding my hands to the point where I woke up this morning and ran 4 miles. That’s what happens when he orders your steps. You will walk through deep valley but rest too in green pastures. The key is to keep all things in perspective. He is your shepherd after all. You have every single thing you need in life. I am learning that with everything I keep, with my family and of course with every grant I write. Keep all things in perspective.

When I speak of power, I’m speaking not only of the stuff we keep to ourselves, the ones we keep from blowing up, the ones we keep from starving to death. I am speaking of the ones we ought to let go, cut like an umbilical cord, so it has a life on its own. Poetry is power. Poetry is also not a luxury. When we have a vision, it is poetry that fuels that vision, whether we write it, whether we dance it, whether we dream it. It fuels the future. It also fuels our work for the future. Keep poetry.

Audre Lorde

These words above are from Audre Lorde. I have been reading her Cancer Journals and they truly have relevance for how we disseminate evidence based information as poetry. It is keeping me motivated to with the work we are doing with LIGHT. Keep poetry.

The woman who feels everything,

knows the name of her pain,

the source of her gains

and certainly how to carry rain.

To see her too,

like the desert waiting,

or like a flower blooming,

for tomorrow praying,

but today dreaming

knowing what she feels is daring,

but grateful still for this wild blessings.

May I never forget what the moon, the stars and sun know.

From my son’s heart to mine.

The past few days, weeks and months have been full of wild blessings. Full with the knowledge too that that surest failure as Lucille Clifton, once noted, is the unattempted walk. My June and July was full of impossible journeys, one where the news of 2/3 of my attempts at walking, has landed me in space full of blessing that can only be described as wild. I still don’t know the outcomes but I wanted to take the time to thank the one who leads me. When he said that even if I pass through waters he would be with me, I believed him. Not even all the troubles I encountered overwhelmed me. Fire didn’t burn me and trials did not hurt me. It’s for this reason I say thank you for bringing me safe this far. As for tomorrow, I don’t know what it holds but for today, I agree with the moon, the stars and the sun.

Thankful for what the grass and my babies know too!

I have always loved Langston Hughes poem, ‘Dreams.’ They personify my mood these days. My story is one of dreams. I shared that during a presentation yesterday at NYU. I have this presentation where I go from dreams to ambition to dips and rising and back to dreams. It’s my take on the programmatic focus of my research.

How I sustain my work also known as dreaming, being ambitious, experiencing dips and rising through this field called global health.

I live to sustain evidence-based effective research in limited resource settings. It’s an audacious dream, many people describe as vexing or least understood outcome of research. I beg to differ. It isn’t vexing to me. Never has been. I have written multiple grants on it. They failed. The field was not ready then. They still may not be, I said during my presentation yesterday. But I can dream and when I do, I am reminded of the words of Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

While we are at it, today I did the unthinkable. I have always dreamed of being a children picture book author, so I pitched a story, inspired by dreams and gazing out to a night full of brilliant, radiant stars. It’s the annual picture book pitch fest on Twitter and I figured I have nothing to lose. I also finished the first completed draft of the most brutal grant I have every written today. Grants, stories, one thing for sure, I am holding on to my dreams.