As an undergraduate and graduate student at Penn State (loved that school too much), I received 2 Bunton Waller scholarship and fellowship. The Bunton Waller scholars program were named in honor of Mildred Settle Bunton (1932), recognized as the first African American woman to graduate from Penn State, and Calvin Hoffman Waller (1904), believed to be Penn State’s first African American graduate. The scholarship is given to students who enhance the broad and diverse student population at Penn State. The Bunton-Waller Program attracted students from various backgrounds who have demonstrated academic potential and are eligible to attend Penn State.

Most of my friends through college and in life were Bunton Waller scholars. Imagine all of us living in the same dorm our freshman year in college. That was our experience in a predominantly white institution. The program allowed us to see ourselves and not get lost in the shuffle of what it means to be a racial and ethic minority. And we all thrived. When I look through the profiles of us, those I keep in touch with and I those I don’t, majority have doctoral degrees. It gives me chills to see the amount of doctors that came out of the program. One of my close friends from the program is an anchor woman at CBS Philly. Another group run Fortune 500 companies as top leaders, while some simply own their business. Such is the beauty of university programs that begin with diversity in mind. Not just in words but truly with efforts to train the next generation of scholars. I will be speaking about my experience as a diverse scholar next week for National Institutes of Health and if you can, do register to join us here. https://nih.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_eQ-zp0WMRnC2yQRRN658aQ

I write slowly. Painstakingly slow. I have been letting the words come. They come really slow. It may seem like I can’t get to the end. I have been told to set deadlines. I do. All the time I have deadlines with my other style of writing. I always meet the ones with the grants I commit to writing. Deadlines aren’t a problem. But for this other style of my writing, the nonfiction side that seeks to challenge the status quo, that writing side is pretty slow. I think it’s because non fiction or even fiction writers don’t often prescribe solutions. We do that a lot in academic/scientific writing. We have a solution for $25k or $10million and if we are good at this grant writing style, you will probably give us that money. And chances are nothing we prescribe will actually change anything. It’s the sad but real truth about academic writing. We are in the business of offering solutions. Impossible and often unsustainable ones. Granted it may work for 705 or even 30 people we follow for 6 months or 12 months after our study ends. But visit those people 4 years later, chances are nothing has changed. And we are probably off to the next grant. That side of writing in my opinion is part of a colonial legacy that has dominated scientific writing for to long. It also has to change.

Recently, a top journal sent out an email asking people to respond to their themed paper on ways to advance racial and ethnic equity in science and health. They especially requested for racial and ethnic groups marginalized or often excluded from publishing to send in their papers. I chuckled. Not only have you excluded these groups from publishing, now you want them to end racism too. The ones you intentionally excluded? Are they god? Do people only see racial and ethnic groups in science as gods?

We are only just coming to terms with the knowledge that finally, racism can be publicly declared as a public health crisis. It was just acknowledged last year, in 2021. Something we have known for too long. And now, one year later, we are supposed to have interventions that end racism, metrics to measure progress, even ways to advance workforce diversity that advances racial and ethnic equity in health. Surely even their gods must be crazy. If you have systematically excluded voices of people and scholars experiencing inequities, if you have not allowed them to be lead authors or even accepted any paper they wrote, how then can you expect them to do the impossible as if they were gods. This is my musing for today, something I wrote as a verse below. Ooh and racial and ethnic minorities in academia cannot end racism we never started. Enjoy below.

Surely we can write, about racism, about its many forms, about the structures that perpetuate racism, about policies and practices too that are racist.

Surely we can write about how racism leads to segregation, leads to violence and incarceration, leads to inequitable access to health, leads to poor quality care, leads to color blindness, leads to systemic bias, and ultimately fails the people it serves. We can do all that with your call for papers. Or we could try truth-telling.

How might the same people, voices unheard of, voices ignored, voices suppressed, or voices excluded, end something they never started? The pernicious effects of racism are not for ignored or excluded voices to address, let alone remedy. All of that is your problem, not ours.

We know the effects of racism. We live it too. No calls for papers will end what we know about it. No selection of papers, peer-reviewed, commitment to anti-racism, will change this one fundamental fact, we are at a crossroads.

The tools we use with writing as we do scientifically are colonial.

Racism has seriously disturbed scientific writing for too long.

We will not survive using your colonial tools. This is after all the oppressors language. The master’s tool. We know this also.

But those of us committed to change will survive.

We will survive.

Not in methods, results or discussions. Not in margin of errors or regression models. Not in p-values or any rigorous statistical analysis.

We will change course and move on. We will drop what we can, forms and styles of writing we can, and continue our journey, our way.

This is our story too. We will write ourselves and the people we serve into history. Our way. With or without you. We don’t need representatives. We don’t even need papers. We will write our stories, write our histories, write our fears, write new frontiers, write until we become clear. Write until we change injustices. Our way.

We have tried to learn your ways. Tried to push back on the misrepresentation that so often defines the people we serve.

Today isn’t our morning.

We have been ready to take on this challenge. Ready to make concessions where we can. Public health critical race praxis is one fine example. Not even your exclusions have undermined what we know.

That even those presumed to have no voice, have voice. Those presumed to have no power, have that too.

And we are doing what is expected of us. Our way.

We know something better than your ways exist. We know the possibilities of light. We are also committed to proclaim like the universe once did. Let there be light.

I am all about light. All about celebrating those who build and sustain it. Those unafraid to give a little light, to make their light shine too. Those prepared to do their part to dispel darkness, to become a voice for the voiceless, to love as love does, choosing love or fighting for justice like hell. I am all about those working to touch everyone with light. Those working to be like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We spend a lot of time praising people that are dead that we forget to celebrate all of us still alive. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally for celebrating Dr. Martin King Jr, for honoring his life’s work and legacy. I would also love to celebrate those alive working in his footsteps. We can do both.

To me, celebrating those doing his work today, neutralizes all those who would rather quote his words and not take a mile in his footsteps. I’ll rather we uplift those that are doing what is powerful, creative, within themselves and their communities to ensure justice for all in a non-threatening way. Our times on earth are limited. A friend reminded me of this recently in her musings for her blog. Why not then spend time honoring those reaching for the power within themselves and the work they choose to do, to be like Dr. King. It’s from this reservoir of goodwill for today’s heros that my daughter thought to write about a local hero in Saint Louis. Someone with a strong love ethic for everyone that calls this place home. She told me she wanted to focus on public health and she was inspired by a woman that looked like her, styled her hair like her, wore clothes like her and seemed to be speaking up all the time about ways to end the pandemic. She was inspired by the light in Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis.

The first draft of the book my daughter made.

My daughter wanted to write about her and why she thought she was walking in the footsteps of Dr. King. So we did. She did her own research. Wrote about why Mati was a public health warrior and what it takes to become a warrior. She wrote, illustrated and published her book for the project. I was floored. Not only is Mati doing the impossible however it may seem to end the pandemic in Saint Louis, that people as young as my daughter are watching and noting too how she embraces the spirit of Dr. King made me proud. We should all be like children. Sometimes it would seem as if they are truly the eyes of God for all of us here on earth. By Mati’s own actions and words and as seen from the lens of a child, she is a hero worth celebrating today. Something I imagine Dr. King Jr. would be elated that somewhere, somehow, there are people like Mati doing their part to follow a dream, however impossible it may seem. This is the legacy of Dr. King worth spreading. I am inspired.

Final draft.

In killing rage, bell hooks talked about the need to heal our wounds. Not to be misconstrued with moments where we survive with grace, elegance, or beauty, but rather the wounds that are often hidden or fundamentally traumatic. Living and coping with the ongoing pandemic is fundamentally traumatic and we are all not okay. I have always known this. Tried to move past it too. There is so much as stake and stopping to hold myself longer was never really an option when so many people are relying on you to be strong. Relying on you to be okay. But yesterday, in the middle of watching snow fall and learning about how trees withstand freezing rain, I realized that I have been holding on to a collective wound for too long.

It may seem trivial, but there was a time, I was always on the go, traveling from one country to another in the name of Global Health Research. Research for me was never to be done in the US. So I travelled whereever and whenever work called. I have not travelled for work in 2 years. The last time I did was to South Africa in January 2020. I call myself a global health researcher. I describe myself too as one who learns about global health in person, connecting and weaving stories about our field with people themselves whose stories I am privileged to tell. Such an approach focuses more on the dynamics of the story listener, which is as equally important as, if not more important, that those who tell the stories. I have not listened to stories in person in 2 years. I have not seen people as I normally would, to listen and learn from them in 2 years.

I have also stayed in the shadows with the pandemic. Not spoken eloquently like others or even written eloquently in academic papers about it. Honestly, I am exhausted with the way research is framed in academia. I am tired too with who gets to tell the story for others and who doesn’t. I am also longing for new ways to listen to stories and tell the stories I hear in ways that do not silence or ignore people. It wouldn’t and shouldn’t be based on impact factors within journals. It should be people factors, everything that allows us to connect first as humans and not experts or others. I want to be counted among the people that break this cycle for good.

So many things have inspired this insight within. Becoming a mother during the pandemic, while mothering 3 others, and being there for a frontline spouse may have played a role. Telling diverse stories matters, that doesn’t silence but names the woundedness within our field is so powerful too. But honestly, as we all start gearing for a post-pandemic phase, the one thing I long for is knowledge production uplift with my work. Similar to what bell hooks described as racial uplift. If I wasn’t listening and telling stories pre-pandemic, in ways that make sense to the people I work with, now and post this pandemic, I intend to retain the ideals of the people I serve.

I want my work to focus more on how we see ourselves. To enter spaces and create stories that break so many diligences. To also reclaim spaces where our lives and our stories are heard as loud as we want is also an urgent desire. One where we cannot resort to collective failure anymore. If academia has ushered in learned helplessness as with the way we write, or for whom we write, then the time for change is now, if we really want to attend to the needs of the people we serve. I don’t know what this may look like, but I am working on it and in due time, I look forward to sharing ways that I plan to heal from the trauma inflicted upon all of us that would rather listen and be in the service of others and not institutions or programs shaped by white supremacy. I know that when we all start to address our collective suffering, we fill find ways to health and recover that can be sustained long after this pandemic end. It’s now my life’s work, openly healing wounds from this pandemic.

I prefer to avoid you completely. I prefer to runaway too. Time is slow. But your stretch is deep. Unfriendly too. I tried to stay put. Wished this would all go away. I was a fool. The risks were plenty but being your fool was easy. I tried to give myself the maximum chance of survival. Even the minimum almost ruined me. So I preferred to runway. My own words were a trap. I dug a hole for myself. Moved up and down the hole and was still trapped. Even my spirits were drained. Survival too seemed far away. I thought to pray. I hoped it would give me the fuel to withstand the cold. Hoped the prayers would tide me through this period. For what we pray for can mean life or death. I prayed for life. Though death seemed to lead the way. 800,000 deaths today and it’s shadow still looms deep.

The walls of my throat are thick. Tears have stoped flowing. All we can do is defend our own. So our eyes are open. I pray you find more pair of eyes. The more pair of eyes there are to see, the more hearts there are to feel. We have lost our ways with seeing and feeling that death is now us. So I pray for more pair of eyes. Those bold enough to fight undetected. To single out those who prefer to die rather than protect themselves. So being with more pair of eyes, moving as a flock would represent real security for those of us prepared to live. Robins in the winter adopt a policy where the males and females, hold for a time, separate winter territories they defend. I pray you find your Robin, if male or female. And when you do, be as strong as a lion and run from nothing. Your clouds have no rain.

It has been a hazy week for me. Like the terrible fog we saw this morning in STL. I started the week in stride, with great news and almost immediately, bad news followed. I imagine this is what happens when you let the bad in. They reflect no stars and can keep you down, if you don’t immediately rise and praise the good. To be down and never know how to rise is my keep for today. And now, when we are certain of things we cannot see. Like the air we breathe. When we are sure of things we hope for. Like the sweetness of rain. When we are prepared for the journey ahead. Like flowers planted in the sun. But yet we leave without knowing where to go. Like the paths that thunders follow. I reckon then, oh then, will we look for our light, as we uncover all that is hidden within us. That’s how I got through this week. For even if we go through the deepest darkness. Even if we reach the depths of the earth. Underneath the same earth are sapphires, corals, rubies, silver, and dusts turned to gold. So too are your depths if only you dig your hardest places. If only you burrow through the hardest rocks in your life. When miners dig the hardest rocks, they discover precious stones. So too will you dig, and discover how precious you are. The depths of your light are precious.

Langston Hughes has a poem of how a seed planted at the right time, produces flower, that go on to become more than the seed ever imagined.

Imagine if the path of the pandemic was like a seed. Imagine how we will blossom when we become flower. All because we took the time to first plant the seed.

For people’s health, with this pandemic, we should be like seeds planted and watered by people who tell us which way to go.

Langston Hughes has a poem of how a seed at the right time, produces flower, which goes on to become more than the seed ever imagined. ⁣

Imagine if the path out of the pandemic was like a seed. Imagine how we will blossom when we become flowers. All because we took the time to first plant the seed. ⁣

For people’s health, with this pandemic, we should be like seeds planted and watered by people (and not solely experts) who tell us which way to go.

Where there are no attention to the public, the path out of the pandemic is hopeless.

We have being fighting this virus for close to 2 years next year. It keeps winning. My opinion, physicians are to blame.

No, I do not hate physicians. I am married to one. We started to have a debate about this during Thanksgiving and let’s just say the physicians in the house proved my point.

My opinion again, the absence of public health people, not to be equated as presence of medically trained people only, are to blame.

As someone who calls themselves a public health expert, our absence in this pandemic is part of the problem. We are no where to be found. The physicians have taken up all the oxygen they can and will continue to use it while the path out of the pandemic remains hopeless.

Do you know who really vaccinated people, with small pox vaccination for example? You guessed it, not only physicians but community health workers.

Ooh, what about polio vaccines in many parts of the world, right again, community health workers were there too. Yet these same community health workers have no spokesperson at your nightly news forum, speaking precisely and with clarity about how they work to address a community’s health, people’s health, the public’s health. Even community health is nowhere to be found and behavior does not occur in a vacuum or in interactions with doctors and patients alone. They seldom do, and focusing on them alone is why the path out of this pandemic will remain hopeless.

The fact that we keep hearing only how great the vaccine adds to the problem. It is great, one of the best vaccines ever made. But how about hearing how great masks are? They are excellent, and an excellent protection for others and oneself with the virus. Even research show that face masks significantly reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection compared to social distancing. We find a very low risk of infection when everyone wears a face mask, even if it doesn’t fit perfectly on the face. Imagine that, you don’t want a COVID-19, wear a mask.

And don’t let me get started with at home or self-testing. I am just curious who in the right mind told the US government that asking your insurance company to reimburse the Binax kit you bought from Sams club for $14 will motivate you to want to test? Do you ask your insurance company to reimburse you for the pregnancy kit you both for your self, or even the blood pressure measuring devise you use at home?

Common sense is not even being used anyone and yes I blame it on the absence of public health experts. In fact it drove me to want to explore what went wrong with our field and why are we now where to be found. Truth is public health as a field, has been no where for a long time when all we do is speak to ourselves at conferences and publish papers in our journals for ourselves only. No member of the public talks to each other with introductions, methods, results and discussion. No one. We have also been no where when even the journal we publish all our work in are not even open access or accessible to the public we serve. And we have been no where when all we do is serve our resumes and impact factors and not center even the public in public health.

The time has come for change and changing how we speak to the public is key. Using words, creatively, for me is like air, true necessity for reaching the public today. With public health, I’ll rather use words to reach you, than teach you about grey skies you see with your eyes. Grey skies like the racist bans on African countries from flying to the US and other European countries. Truth is everything will always be nothing for people and places that treat us like the heart of darkness. So don’t waste time searching for water as if they don’t see Africa like a desert. Until the vaccine arrives, wear a mask. This is a public health message that is easy and should be shared widely. And for people’s health, we should be wide open and let people tell us which way to go.

I liked a paper shared on Twitter yesterday. It focused on why decolonizing geosciences mattered. I loved everything I read that I felt it was critical to keep some. The fact that we have been told that certain ways of knowing and doing are superior resonated deeply with me. That and the fact that for eons we have been told that local or indigenous ways of knowing are inferior. That experts are only outsiders with resources, and if they are coming from the West, even better. That expertise can’t come from insiders, those who carry treasures of their life within their core. Yet to address harm and change how science is done, we must deeply recognize how colonialism have benefited experts and not those with expertise for whom knowledge first belonged to.

This paper is a perfect example of why stories matters with any attempt at decolonizing anything and any field. The hunt has glorified the hunters for too long that all we know are the stories of the colonizers, the stories of the experts, the stories of the hunter. This is my attempt at changing this with this article and the work of many great minds as an inspiration. I simply call it tell your story with decolonizing anything, somethings, or everything. We have nothing to lose these days and so we might as well strut like the lions we are.

With decolonization, tell your story, they say.

While the legacy of the hunt lingers.

Tell your story, they say.

Or the hunt will continue to glorify the hunters.

Tell your story, I hear. The hunter has failed everyone, including those being hunted.

But you can’t decolonize anything. You can’t decolonize somethings. You can’t decolonize everything.

It’s a myth.

It’s a myth.

It’s a myth.

And decolonizing should mean much more said the powerful as they wield their power in powerful spaces they erect and maintain to keep telling the stories of the hunter, to maintain their power.

Yet, we know that we can’t decolonize powerful spaces.

We can’t decolonize powerful people.

They are hunters. Their weapons are mightier. Their impact last longer than a day.

But while the debate about the myth of decolonizing remains, while the powerful even join and lead the debate, are we supposed to be silent?

Are we supposed to watch and stare as they continue to cast their shadow?

Are we supposed to live as if we don’t have our own historians?

Are we supposed to continue to forget that we are lions? No.

Rather, the time has come for the lions to tell their story.

The time has come for the lions to have their own historians.

Like a tale by moonlight, let me begin with the following;

Story, story, story.

Story, story, story.

Story, story, story.

With history, be prepared to construct and reconstruct it from a different perspective, a Black perspective, an African perspective too. Our stories have been told to us by others for far too long that this time, the lions are ready to take the stage. The complexities and racist histories of colonialism is finally taking center stage with this global pandemic. Variants of it has been there from the beginning, though swept under the rug of globalism. It is rather a class on colonialism and this time, there are no more slaves in this version of history. No more white people selling bodies for profit. No more tantrums from leaders disguised as fit but truly unfit. Plus no more pretense as if we are all in this together. We are not. The inequities with vaccine distribution was clue number 1. Number 2, the injustice with flight bans.

With Omicron variant surging through countries both in Asia and Europe, why is a travel ban only issued for countries in Southern Africa? This is the truth about decolonizing Global Health worth spreading, plain and perfect. Powerful leaders will always be leaders with power. They will do and claim to do what is always in their best interest even if this interest serves only their needs. Anyone expecting anything less has not been open to all the travesties that is colonialism. The emperors maybe wearing new clothes but they remain emperors, powerful ones now with subtle charm that invokes globalism when the harsh realist is individualism. They may claim change but their change is more or less like distant skies out of reach rather that streams of water in plain view. Everything about their dominant treatment of others both implicit and explicit remains true, and will always remain so during and beyond this pandemic.

The solution, lions tell your story. There will be a struggle. Embrace it. Refuse to be enslaved again and tell your story of injustices however you choose. This time, the path to pandemic freedom will be different. Not because we relied on the West, but rather because we believed in each other. I spent my morning retweeting and sharing videos of people telling the story, this time from their perspective. Dr. Ayoade Alakija’s interview with the BBC stood out to me. Watch here and see how lions are roaring to tell their stories.