Let them say, you did it your way. You failed and failed. You stood too and stood. You withstood all that fear had in store, down to the last syllable.
Still, you weathered the storm. Danced through fire. Circled back to beginnings full of failures and pain.
Still you worked. You rose up early and worked. Accepted it all, like cloudy skies sailing through. Ijeles too spinning through the beat of drums at feasts full of yams so new.
Still you looked up. Face full of tears and wondering when to give up or persist through the hell called failure.
For what good is life without a lesson or two. What good is failure, without learning it’s bitter acid.
Let them say what they say. But where you have been, circles and all, is still just the beginning.
I’m learning the importance of belonging. The importance of surrounding myself with those willing to support all that I care about it. Even if it fails 1000 times. The 1001th time is my keep for today. Even ideas that first fail, still fail until time. It’s this time, I long to master.
Lives healed by the sound of music. And lives restored in the middle of meltdowns, are dancing to their own tunes now. Becoming too, in tune with all the noise, and sorrow, pulling us down, sign of the times and full moon, all the good news, for lives lived beyond these times. I am on a quest to make sense of minds not typical but typical in their own way. And music is my key entry point. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but in the middle of another meltdown today with my son, in the middle of what seemed to be an endless display of a mind in disarray, music helped to restore all we couldn’t. It’s this gift and power, I choose to keep today. The never ending sound of music for healing.
Like mother, like son, the one we named after God, lives like his mother.
Always talking, always questioning, if it doesn’t feel right, he will be the first to ask. If it comes to his minds, words will be out and free.
Like mother, like son, the one we named after God, sees the world in big ways. Trees are big. Sky, too big. So are the oceans and everything that makes him relax. He maybe small today, but his tomorrow is big.
Like mother like son, the one we named after God, won’t stop talking. He keeps asking questions too. Why do you work so much? Why can’t we go to Drace Park?
His ways maybe tiring. His talking and questioning too. But, I’ll gladly suffer the tenderness of his kinda of love.
My middle son is forever in his pajamas. Not just to sleep, but to wear as day wear. We have tried though in vain to switch his style of dressing, but he keeps returning back to what he loves. Recently, I asked why and he noted that they make him feel comfortable and relaxed. He simply loves them because of their comfort. I looked at him and wondered out loud to myself, where does he get all his ideas from. He is only 5 years old. His ways are irresistibly charming and full of ease. His ability to live as he sees in world, in union with all that makes him relaxed is my keep for today. There is tenderness in his ways. I am learning that everyday. But most importantly, the fact that his ways are mine, keeps me hungry with every fiber of my being, for life.
Like me, a woman, full, in bloom. Come soil or rock, I grow, oblivious to the softness or hardness of the other.
Life knows me well. I am persistent with all the soil and rock I meet like a Bella Donna Lilly.
I was greeted by these large lily like flowers today. They lined the back of our home.
They stood tall, with a stem, naked, leafless, proud, like a woman. Only flowers, in pale pink color lined their tips. Only flowers line their tip.
Rain or sun, they grow on their own. With seeds producing flowers in three years. Today, I was greeted by flowers that took three years to bloom. Three years to bloom.
There is heaven in these flowers. I saw it for myself today. I saw heaven today.
I took a break from everything. Packed the family and literally went to a place I can only describe as heaven on earth. It was the most relaxing vacation I have had in awhile and to think I planned it with five families, 22 people in total is no small feat. We ate, we danced, we smiled and laughed our hearts out that coming back to earth has truly been hard. I also saw my sister from another mother in heaven. Like we didn’t even tell each other that we were going on vacation. Only for me to bump into her in a place I can only describe as heaven. Just as I was slowly adjusting to being back, my eyes wandered to the back of our home. Long naked like stems lined the back of our home, near where we planted cucumbers last year. They seem to be coming on their own and growing out of soils and rocky pavements. When I learnt their name, I realized that God wanted me to hold heaven in my hands for infinity. Of course I won’t have five families with me. I have my own. And thanks to these flowers, I intend to hold on to heaven for eternity. I needed this reminder today.
All my life, I have lived with a scar. Not a big one. Just one I rarely forget.
We have lived together, all my life. Learning, though silent, the meaning of things, people, voices, ideas, I dare not forget. Those imprinted forever, still hopeful for too much hope.
I have also been told different stories about the scar. Some say ignore the stories, it’s just a tiny birth mark, that somehow grew over time. Others say, I placed my finger on fire and learnt that day, why fire is fire.
Regardless of the story, a birthmark or fire, we still live together, this scar and I, like hunger, like desire, like things I cannot forget.
After all these years, even scars have hope. They rise so I remember, always, that fire is fire.
Some places are inaccessible. For those with heads like velvet blackness, skins smooth like the color night.
Some places are inaccessible. For those with eyes darkly clear, those who look the sun in the face, unblinded.
Some places are inaccessible. For names wrapped with African-ness like a shawl, names like Olisadubem, or the ones for whom God calls.
Some places are inaccessible. For those unafraid and lusty, those with feet destined for infinite processions through paths dusky.
Some places are inaccessible . For those who scream, through every limb, those who let tears fall, unashamedly.
Some places are inaccessible. For those prepared to be truly free, those prepared to unlearn centuries or days of lies.
Some places are inaccessible. For those full of life, black boys, young with sterling and vigorous life.
So make places accessible. For those with laughter, the sweet staccato of black boys.
Make places accessible, for those with electric currents of life, black boys with thoughts like tiny sparks.
Make places accessible. For long days argued away, black boys articulate with provocative assertion.
Make places accessible. For dreaming, debating, aspiring, black boys whose feet echo through windy paths.
Make places accessible. For black boy joy, perpetually overflowing, astounding, indestructible.
Just make places accessible, for boys, black, young, our own.
I was inspired to write this piece following a experience I had today. My 5 year old was kicked out his camp after only 4.5 days in attendance. I initially blamed myself. Blamed my son for his ways that were deemed as problematic after only 4.5 days. Then I remembered I have been here before. It was probably the jolt I needed. Nothing motivates a mother more than using inappropriate labels or descriptors. I have also be lagging behind with boy number 2. I know he needs help. Not enough to kick him out of camp, but more so to make him want to be around you. He plays piano every weekend with teachers who look like him. He can hold a tune and he is 5. He plays tennis with young men that do not look like him. He can swing his racket really far and he is 5. The fact that they felt he was emotionally dis-regulated, after 4.5 days of being in his presence, the one we literally named after God, is the motivation I never knew I needed with him.
I have always reminded him that his name is all he needed. Little do I know that I need it more. And Olisa, will be our guide. Just keeping this here for when the narrative with son number 2 begins to change. I have no idea what the future holds. I am not as energetic as I once was with the regimen I used to help my son number 1 thrive in ways that keep us speechless. He started his own camp today and let’s just say I give God glory. So here we go. Back to the basics with son number 2. The first thing I highly recommend is to get an evaluation so you know where your child stands. Yes these evaluations were not made with black boys in mind and I have my reservations with them. But they help you attain additional resources you may not be able to assess, many that will go a long way towards changing the narrative as you intervene early. Stay tuned as I go back to exploring how to do this again. Only this time, children’s books like these by bell hooks will be my guide. I intend to work to ensure that black boys thrive in spaces that would love to see them cry unashamedly or laugh with the fullness of life.
I wonder on days like today, how we have made you feel through the years. Did we make you smile? Did we keep you hopeful? Or where we full of stress, full of denials for a freedom you truly derserve. I see that with each passing day, we made your eyes stay wide open. Sure there were stressful days, never ending tears and calls for attention from all of us for your superhero ways. Your name Chizoba, means to save after all. So we looked up to you to save us from ourselves, save us from days when the skies hurt, and nights when the stars blinds. We called on you to save us when we didn’t know how, like when all the noises in our head, called us out by name, during moments that were suppose to linger. We are human after all and with you we have seen all the sides the jewelry of emotions display. We have known pain, but felt joy. We have cried, but also laughed. We have fallen, but yet stand because life with you demands we do both. Not just when things are bad but when they are good.
I would love to use today to dwell on the good. Not because it’s the day we celebrate men like you who birthed eyes that glisten like silvery stars, but because you birthed them with your hands. I know joy when I see it and it is you. From the moment you walk into any room, all our fears and worries for the day disappear. You are more than our savior, more than an knight with shinning armour, slaying dragons we would rather hide. You have slashed many of our fears away, slashed our worries for tomorrow too. With you there is no need to think of what tomorrow may bring, no need to wonder what the future holds, no need because the present is far more eloquent. All the joy felt even on a single day with you are like birds flying with magnificent grace. You are grace, and the way you accept all of our ways, is the profound harmony our soul sings today. You presence is all that interests us, all that guides us, protects us, remains with us long after others you are called to save rush to your hands.
There have been plenty days when all we hoped for a full uninterrupted day, to sit, to question, to share. There were some we knew mattered most for the people in need. Heads in need of blood flow, despite our need for life flows with you. We watched you sacrifice so much, your time, your life, us, to heal others whose last name you barely know until they arrive at your hands. Both the presence and absence of you, both the coming and going you do so often, every single thing about the joys and pains of healing, is felt with you. We use today, the awe and reverence of a day everyone joins to celebrate the primary importance of fathers, to let you know that you are our sun when it cries, our stars when it blinds, our skies for all it tends, and our air for all it whispers. A day with you is better than a thousand sunsets. A day with you is life, joy, laughter and tears running down our face unashamedly. You pull so many emotions from us all at once that even days like today are not enough to speak of your extraordinary ways. You will always be the ignition that lights up our lives, always be the air we breath, always be anything we dream, because you first gave us you.
For that we lift you up to the one who first made you, declaring that not a single thing above or below, will stand against you so long as you breathe. Not a single person, black or white, old or young, will come against you when the rivers of Niger and the crocodiles of Kaduna, all the rivers and lands your feet have sailed and will sail through belong to you. Your hands will always save, always know bravery, always heal. You will always be our seed, our soil, our water for all time. You will always be our beginning, primarily saving, before we knew we needed a savior. This is what you are to all of us, and you are like no other. Happy Father’s Day, Zobam.
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.