I am learning everyday, life is short. Love life like air, like mango trees. Ije uwa. Only this matters. No matter how small, keep your story. Write it as a note, a song, a book, the wind, or the kernels of a sheri mango. For candles will blow, tears will fall, even mangos grow old and perish. But your story will always remain, always speak for you, even when you become one with the earth.
I’m in a space where stories matter. I know the pain maybe unbearable, but using this medium to share that he lived a great life, like the mango trees of his childhood. May we all get to appreciate time and age so gracefully.
I talk to my late grandma, often, every Sunday in particular. Whenever I say my prayers after holy communion, I say hello to her. English was not her first language. So all her prayers were in pidgin English and Igbo back then. She mixed both languages often. My favorite being the one for Blessed Sacrament. Mma Mma nke Chi ne ke, Kedu? That what I say to her often. Thats how she prayed then. That and I hope she is doing well. Papa too and every single ancestor that joined her in heaven. They say you never forget the one that formed you, the one that framed you too. The one that made it possible so you exist. I cannot forget Mama. Not when she is the reason I exist. The mother of Onyelo, the one who gave birth to something so impossible. I am an impossible being. To know her story, to recall how she never gave up, to see what persistence looks like, know and feel it too, is my keep for today. We were never meant to be. I should not be here today. But I am and for that I will do all that I can, so all things impossible become possible. Love and miss you Mama. Sleep well.
You will look for me and not find me. You will look near flowers red like hibiscus, near those small like roses. You will look for me near things small and red, near things you hold dear, like the picture of Onyelo, next to Papa, with Mama Ocha, holding Rose. Only, that you are not a flower, you are not fleeting, and moments like this, like rapture, are endless blessings, like walking on water, like turning wine to water, this moment of you, holding Rose forever .
I imagine a people can lose sight of their history. Become swept away by the current of other people’s history. Ignore too when the rain began to beat them that they forget to dry themselves up. All of this is grave. The loosing sight, being swept away and simply forgetting. But of all this, prescribing solutions through one vision, is like death. No good comes out of graves. Everyone needs to figure out their part with the story, use their strength, and do what they know, even though dangers remain ahead. You may fail too. That’s okay. Failure is an option, though we won’t dwell on it. We will build on its strengths, it’s possibilities, and every sign it uses to lead to success. The work we do must be in service of others despite our failure. It must make their life easy too, like art, like poetry, like form, like lines, like every attempt to use the master’s language, never forgetting the moon rises for all. I am in a space they call moonrise.
To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream, wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true.
I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like.
This is what striving looks like and don’t you ever, ever, give up on you…”
I was blown away by these words sang and spoken by the great Sheryl Lee Ralph at the Emmy’s yesterday. I met her once, in person in undergrad when I attended a leadership program in Philadelphia and I was mesmerized. Anyone that has come in contact with her, ultimately feels like you are in the presence of royalty, a queen. Watching her acceptance sang and spoken yesterday brought great joy to my soul. This is one deserved award for a very brilliant and powerful woman and I hope her words will inspire you as it did for me.
There is a part of a grant, more poignant to me these days. It’s the part that keeps me up every night. The part that keeps me restless. The part often hidden. The part that anchors me. The part too that absorbs everything and transports me to new heights. The part worthy of digging. The part that helps me convey my dreams. The part often difficult to clarify. They part that moves in multiple directions. The part that is my source of everything. It is my origin, my seed, my beginning, my once upon a time, my core, my foundation, my essence, my base, my fundamental, my most important aspect of the grant. All parts of a grant are important. But this part, like a tree, makes me cry. I am like a tree planted by water, sending out roots to the water. I am not afraid of heat. I always stay green. No rain, no worries. I keep beating fruit. I keep putting my trust in him. I am a grant writer because of the significance section. The significance section is where all my energy for a grant comes from. Find your significance, get a sense of its root, it’s foundation, and then go change the world to a point.
I am always mesmerized by an interview Chinua Achebe gave on NPR back in 1988. In it he told a story about a tortoise and a leopard. The leopard meets the tortoise on a lonely stretch of road. He had been trying to catch the tortoise for a long time. Tortoise, being a trickster, always found ways to escape. But on this day, he was cornered by the leopard. Even the leopard said to him, ah-ha, now I have got you. Prepare to die. Tortoise said to the leopard, can I ask for a favor, give me a short time to prepare for my death. Leopard, looked around and said, I don’t see why not. Go ahead. But instead of standing and thinking as the leopard had expected, tortoise began to dig a hole and scatter sand all over the road, throwing it in all directions. Leopard asked, what’s going on, why are you doing all of this. To which the tortoise replied: I am doing this because after I am dead, I want anyone passing by this spot and seeing all the sign of struggle on the road to say: a man and his match struggled here.
To Chinua Achebe, the moral of this is the importance of struggle. No one is going to guarantee us the outcome. Nobody is going to say if you struggle, you will succeed. It would be too simple. But if even we are not sure how it will end, whether we will succeed or not, we still have this obligation to struggle. It’s for this reason that I conclude with the following. I want my life, this blog, to be a living testimony of this struggle, whether I succeed or not.
So I see smoke everywhere.
As fire transforms to dust.
I see my people are everywhere.
These days my eyes are closed.
Finding God’s voice is all I know.
If Jabez can pray, I can do the same for blessings, for taking away pain and everything else that weighs me down.
I am a child that came for a journey.
He knows I walk miles he ordained.
Yet, I am restless these days. struggling to come up for air.
Knowing too where there is pain, there is life and dreams, and possibilities for tomorrow.
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.