I will know peace and joy, laughter and rain. I pray the roads are smooth, but if I find them rough, may all the peace I know, carry me through. Otherwise, bring flowers. Carnations or shady ladies will do.
This is not for your feelings. Or mountains burning with fire. Or places dark and gloomy. Or unending winds and storms. Even if trembling or afraid. Smash those feelings against a rock. For this is not about you.
Rather, this is for those approaching Mount Zion. Those dwelling in the city of God. Those surrounded by thousands of angels. Those with harps singing. Those blazing like the setting sun.
This joyful gathering. This myriad of festivities. This celebration you feel cannot be shaken, cannot be moved. Not when he calls us by name.
I am in awe always of Hebrews 12: 18-24. I remember when a colleague of mine, Edmond Moukala read it at work (UNESCO days). He read it out loud with intensity. At that time, work was terrible and a group of us gathered over lunch to mediate on the word. These were some of the best moments of work. But of all our gathering, (his rendition of the Lord’s Prayer being another favorite of mine) this reading held a special place in my heart.
I still see him reading it with the conviction the words carry. You have not come with your heads bowed low. He didn’t say it this way of course, but that was always my take on it when he started. God did not create me to be small. Rather, like his child, I have approached his throne with the grace that he bestowed on me from the moment he called me. Again, my rendition but that’s what I truly feel whenever I hear this chapter and verses read. I had to make it my own in words that personify my mood these days at work.
This isn’t about you or your feelings. We live in a world full of mountains of egos. Your feelings are yours. Keep them to yourself. Rather, when you come near me, know that Mount Zion resides in me. God’s city and all that adorns it, is me. I hope you leave with the sprinkle of blessings that he showers around those he calls his own. My mood for this year. I pray this year is full of better things than the last. All because of where you have come to. Mount Zion. Those he calls by name.
Why do what we do? Why get in the game even if you don’t know how to play? My answer is simple. If your know your vision, nothing will ever get in your way. And my vision is bigger than me. What you think you see or know about what I do is only 30%. What you don’t see until time is another 70%. Sensible people keep quiet about what they know. I am learning that every day. I never start a journey because I expect it to be easy. I never start one unless the plans are bigger than me. If I am not dreaming, then I am not living. And even when it seems like a dream has come through, I am like a blue ocean that refuses to be still.
So what do I want out of this path I find myself in called public health, more. That’s it. The late Kobe Bryant in his commercial with Kanye West acted this best. I really want more. More grants and all that it takes to succeed or fail in them. More stories too about how you even begin to write them. Of what use is public health if you don’t master the oppressors language and use it for good. Grant writing is me doing what Lorraine Hansberry asked that those young, gifted and black do with all the gifts the have: Write to a point.
I am writing to a point with each grant I write and yea prepared to fail too. Of what use also is research or anything we do in public health without funding. Entrepreneurs never start a business without funding. Churches never go a Sunday service without asking for offerings. How much less public health? It is so much bigger than the papers we write. So much bigger than requests for papers or all the variants advertised about them these days. Which is why I am in the business of ensuring that everything I do in the field begins with the funds in mind.
My vision is to do great work that impacts lives and lasts. I am calling it an ILL (Impact Lives & Last) vision these days because it will need lots and lots of funding. That is why I always begin with grants. Begin to with the process of perfecting the art of writing one. The public deserves this. I will never underestimate the hard work it takes to write one. But when you remember your vision, you keep writing and perfecting the art to a point. Even when the public sees the 30% of the outputs of any grants I write, understand the remaining 70% you don’t and may never see is where dreams are made off.
I am dreaming in public health and doing so my way. Nearly all of academia doesn’t elevate dreams. Nearly all. But if you find yourself in a place or space where dreams are allowed, I hope you dream to a point and give people a reason to want to do more.
Yesterday, we gave an update on LIGHT to our steering committee and I can’t help but envision all the things we intend to do more off. LIGHT is leaders igniting generational healing and transformation with a vision to center the public in public health. The 30% you see of LIGHT keeps us humble. But the 70% you don’t see, is my keep for today. We don’t call ourselves LIGHT for nothing. The public in public health demands LIGHT and we will dream to a point to give it to them. So welcome to our more for LIGHT. Our goals and dreams are to give you more reasons to love poetry, stories, art, letter writing or whatever else the public deserves. Enough of the experts. No offense and yes, myself included. We want to also give more reason to include the public in writing for about their health and those of people they love or care for. More reason to increase demand about the public in public health. More reason to reorder realities in new ways. More reason to fundamentally shift perspectives. More reason to see for ourselves the times we didn’t see. More reasons to hear for ourselves all the times we didn’t hear or listen. More reason to paint pictures about health our ways too. More reason to build on our common values, however long it takes to include the public in public health. This is only our 30%. The 70% of LIGHT unknown to the public startles me. You can be part of this with our new open call below:
Lucile Clifton once shared, how our lives are a circular stair. It keeps turning through time. To know why, we circle the world and back, one year after the other, is to know light.
I am flooded by the brilliance of light. A majestic ray, that blooms, past the very speed of itself. The very speed of light. Something inside is open, and as present as the very air we breath. Something inside is on fire, it’s flames engulfing this air, I breathe. To know light, is to turn in circles. A never ending spiral of circles, that keeps turning and turning till no end. A spiral of light, that keeps shining and shining with no end. The reason I speak of light, is for you to see what happens when eyes are wide open. Depths too, are wide open. Brilliance is pouring in. Light is pouring out. I am becoming my wildest dreams. Seeing all this illumination within. Makes me look to the mountains above. The one who made heaven and earth. Helps me rise to a light above. I am like an eagle that soars, like an eagle that soars to the skies, an eagle that soars with words to the skies. And light is leading me all the way.
Today, I walked through streets that framed me, streets like my old 5th avenue, my old house 9, my old Festac town, my old Festac roads, my old Nazareth school, my old Agboju market, my old suya spot, my old stomping grounds, my old joy. Hibiscus flowers are gone. Aloe Vera too. But what will be, all my hopes and dreams, birthed from this place, throbs in me still like an ache.
I am basking in the words of Audre Lorde these days. In her short essay oh how she intended to live the rest of her life while battling liver cancer, she shared the following I will keep forever:
‘I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do.
I am going to write fire until it comes out of my ears, my eyes, my nose holes, everywhere.
Until it’s ever breathe I breathe. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!’
May we all live our lives with this kind of sweetness. I truly will starting with this seafood okro I ate that defies words.
To be born and raised, to remember and relive the sights and sounds, plus grey skies and dusty air. Then to inhale the sense and exhale the stupidity, to be reminded of why and when, plus why again, is to accept the sigh everyone knows so well.
Lagos, Lagos. Seeing you, your place, the people, life, for those je je, those taking am easy, and those navigating their daily hustle never gets old whether on Ojuelegba road or Lekki Phase 1. Lagos, may I never forget all that you are, all that you do. May I always remember too the source of my story, my song.
Grant writing is writing full of misery. Suffering, despair, anxiety, pain, torture, even hell. It has taken years to see that this too is a gift, not pleasure. But a gift.
I am on a quest to understand the purpose of this misery and why it matters for writing your best grants.
Not your most successful. Since success depends on humans and we know how fickle we are.
But your best, whether it fails or succeeds. I understand too that these words alone cannot describe the untold misery you will experience with each grant.
But as someone who has failed with so many grants, these days, the pain of each failure, has propelled me to work hard with grant writing. Know too the joys of suffering.
I could easily have stopped after each failure. But rather, I set them aside and worked to understand what I did wrong in other to get better with the next one.
I never expected to know the beauty of failure. Never planned to learn the glory of misery. No one sets out to intentionally play with fire.
But these days, I am dancing under the shadows of the sun. Learning too, the use of misery and why it matters for grants.
Anyone that tells you they love to write grants, often omits all the misery that accompanies it.
It’s this dignity of misery. It’s ability to teach, to re-secure a dream, a vision, or a goal, like a fly trapped, that keeps me longing for it’s ache.
The gentleness of freedom, the hope of mercy, for trapped flies, is the grace I hope you find for yourself with each grant you write.
So the gift, the one great gift that grant writing gave to me, despite all the pain that accompanied each grant I wrote, is openness.
Beyond the misery, with grants you will be receptive to new ideas. Innovations too. Old ways of thinking will gnaw your mind, until they become distant, like golden sunsets.
But mastering this openness comes at a price. Imagination being one of them. I have imagined grants I had no business writing. They sounded good in theory. I still love and stand by them. One of them for example, called sustainable marketplaces and why they matter for health, HIV in particular for many at the base of the pyramid. I was truly open to learn marketing, used novel concepts from the field of entrepreneurship, that reviewers told me over and over to stop wasting time.
I did the moment, I understood the lessons of misery. A lesson repeated often and available to those willing to try new things. Those unafraid of the unknown. Those in search of simplicity with anything, my own being health. And those passionate about lasting. This gift of misery and it use, birthed openness and countless reasons why all my ideas remain possible.
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.