I tell my grant writing class to draw toast today. No be small thing ooh. I tell dem say to draw am with no words. Only pictures. I think say dem no go understand, think say dem go dey wonder, wetin cause toast and grant writing. Wetin toast sef fit do for any grant wey dem wan write. I take dem by surprise. Dem take me by surprise too. All of dem draw like say dem neva draw before and in the end, how you draw toast go matter for how you write your grant, just like how water matter for how you soak garri.
Ok what was the purpose of this exercise. Honestly, joy, pure joy. Grant writing can be joyful and I find activities like drawing toast help to loosen the experience of writing grants a bit. It doesn’t have to be all curriculum focused content all the time. Laughter matters. Drawing too. Many of us have not drawn anything since we were kids. I find that this exercise takes us back to a time when drawing was all we did. It helps to keep us at ease too. I use it to teach my approach section because I want students to love grant writing as much as I do and if drawing toast paves the way, well so help me God. Any one that takes my grant writing course will draw toast and love what they are doing with whatever grants they write.
What I am carrying is mighty? I am carrying dreams that are bigger than me. I am learning that everyday. It also takes time. Nothing happens by accident. Even the good news I shared yesterday, first has to go through failure for success to become ours. I am learning to be patient with time. The me of before, the one that rushed into grant writing early, was so anxious and ready to get any that I just wrote and wrote and failed and failed. It should never be that way. Didn’t I have any mentors, a dear friend of mine once asked? Why did you write all those grants and kept failing but still kept writing?
Honestly, I was eager to learn? I knew that this business of writing grants was full of rejections. My very first grant was initially rejected before it became successful. So I know too that to get one, you have to fail. What I didn’t know was that I would fail so many times and yes I had mentors? I just thought I was on to something and if only reviewers believed in me like I believed in myself, than that something would be the greatest work ever. It has taken years and learning past failure to know that truly, what works is a vision, a story.
Ideas are plenty. I get them everyday. I have many that failed. What is necessary is your will to endure all that comes with the ideas and may your endurance be bigger than you imagine. Yesterday’s success was a difficult grant to write. We initially wanted to keep it simple, but our local leader pushed and pushed us to go big or go home. I initially refused and then bought into his vision reluctantly. It’s his field and I thought all I was doing was helping him visualize how far we would take it.
What I didn’t know at that time, was that cervical cancer had buried its roots in our home. We initially submitted the first version of the grant June 4th 2021. I got the news of my sister in-law’s illness, something we thought was just minor on June 5th. That was the day I knew what our leader had been warning us about all these years. He always said cervical cancer was a problem. I said ok, but didn’t know the extent. But on June 5th, my world changed. I moved from anger to fury to denial and anger, wishing and praying that this was a bad dream. We tried everything. In the end, everything we did was not enough.
So I continued to do what I knew how to do best, write grants so no woman would die from cervical cancer again. As we begin, this new research, I am leaving this year to remind myself to never forget to dream and dream big. None of this is possible without a dream, and a story to propel you though what may be a tough writing experience. Those grants I failed, they were always well written, but lacked vision and ways to become impactful. I am learning that everyday. The need to move past failures to spaces where dreams soar. Those bigger than you. It’s my keep for today.
I said I wasn’t going to cry. Said I would be strong as we still have miles to go. I have typed and retyped what I would say when a day like today arrives and honestly I stand in awe. To think that the news of our victory came on 9-22-22 keeps me numb. Thank you Angie for fighting in heaven for this one. Thank you for letting it be known that death does not have to have the final say. To be in this work is rough. Tough too. There has been days and nights in which all is given and nothing is received in return. But then I remember Chinua Achebe’s word, his reminder that until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will only glorify hunter. So then I set out to be a lion. Set out because your death was overpowering. Your living too. But your death continues to haunt me.
I have been haunted by how it all transpired, haunted by the fact that we had no idea until it was too late. Years of figuring out the public’s health meant that I couldn’t even use all my knowledge to save my loved one’s life. So I have been trying to figure out how we lost our way. When did it become all about health and not enough about the public. I first discovered what was killing you when it was too late. You were not able to walk. Not able to talk in the last days and nights of your life. We couldn’t even get you on the plane to travel from Jos to Lagos as your condition was to dire to take chances. We still did. Living, we figured, was far better than dying. Everyone pitched in where they could. Bathed you and fed you. Prayed over you and anointed you when the end seemed so close. We all kept wondering and asking why and how and why and how only to end up with a grave that now belongs to us. We have been having a very hard time adjusting to your death. An equally hard time with the absence of your being. Your voice still echoes in my minds. All the things you called me, like Osodieme. We still vividly recall mama screaming and crying as she watched her only daughter die while she lived. Still hear her questions and wondering if we had any idea that you were dying. We did and we tried everything was all we could mutter. Afraid she would die too, we kept all this from her until the last week you both had together. Here was a woman who brought you to this world. Now she watched you die, wishing she was the one dying and not you.
These are all the things that have played in our head and minds since cervical cancer came to our door. You have taken us back to ourselves, back to all we know, just so we stand fierce and ready to do the battle necessary. I expect us to struggle. We are lions and the history of the hunt has never been in our favor. But we will tell our story one day, share of all the ways we struggled and all the ways we triumphed, just so no other woman dies from cervical cancer. We have kept moments of silence, done due diligence to your sunset, just so your sunrise will remain sterling again. This is the start of your sunrise and from today, may your story, like you, be fierce and ferocious as we bear witness to voices silenced, yet triumphant, those prepared to live and begin again, beyond their cervix, beyond the thing that tried to silence them forever. It failed. We are living proof. Beyond our fury, for girls and women by girls and women are all the ways your light shines past your death. We stand in awe.
When a woman dies, and her cervix is to blame, catapulting her from the prime of her life, to her grave, what remains as a witness to her life, her stories, her cervix, her silenced voice? Who will resuscitate a life cut down by cervix?
As I watch my life story slowly change, with cervical cancer elimination, our next attempt at putting the public first in public health, so many questions remain. I look forward to all the struggles and hope ahead on this journey.
Nobody gave her anything. Not the one she loved. Not the ones that loved her. Not even the ones she confided in, all things great, all things small. And so she sailed through life. Not giving. Not laying it all down. Not showing how she endured and endured until her last breath when her cervix got the final world. It did.
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.
I remember her smile like it was yesterday. She always smiled. She was tall and very beautiful. The look on her eyes was like paradise, always mesmerizing, always kind, always tender, always love. Her name was Selena and she was loved by so many. I share her story today, not to grumble, but as a reminder that research for me is people. The passion I feel for research has names and faces that I dare not forget and her story was my first experience at mental health trauma, turned domestic violence, turned suicide. We watched this in real time. We tolerated it too, with assumptions that it would go away over time. Selena’s life was cut short by someone else’s mental health issues and we are left to wonder, what more could’ve we have done.
So I write today, as a reminder that the world is truly an unkind place, people are dealing with a lot, and the familiar can be life threatening. My own awareness of being a researcher and experiencing the ramifications of what happens when evidence is not translated in real world settings is of interest to me. It may seem like we can never help everyone, I know. It may seem like research is uncaring, I know. It may also feel like we are only in it for ourselves. I know too, and agree that there are miles to go before research can truly be for the people. But we can try. I am convinced that if we do our part to ensure that evidence-based research is translated to real-world settings, then there would be no more stories like that of Selena and I would be celebrating her light, her life today and not reminiscing on all that life took from us. So it’s vital for me to write this to remind all of us that research is people and we should care for it, be vigilant and do all in our power to ensure that it remains that way. I also love and miss you Selena and may your soul continue to sleep in God’s bosom. Amen
In a little over a year, now, our life as we knew it came tumbling down. We called her Angie or Angi and to know her was to know life. I am reminded again, that death should never have the final say. Not when those alive can continue the story of a live well lived. One that became a blessing, a symbol of persistence, and collaboration laced with empathy, though the pain of loss of her physical presence lingers. Since her death, I have been writing notes to her. I wrote other things too, like grants and stories and everything that would enable the pain to lessen. Yesterday, I submitted the 4th grant in her memory.
Cervical cancer came knocking furiously at my door in the summer of 2021 and since then I have been answering the call. Two things are clear to me: No woman should die from cervical cancer. And we must eliminate it period. It helps that there are polices for elimination. The 90-70-90 strategy for example which calls for 90% of girls vaccinated, 70% of women screened and 90% of women with positive results linked to treatment. The fact that such a policy with evidence-based tools exists infuriates me. The fact that we also know what to do about cervical cancer also makes me angry. Her death could have been prevented. I get it now. It’s the reason why I keep writing anything that would make her living more memorable.
I personally bear responsibility for her death, blame too. I could have asked more questions, checked in more often and maybe, she would have disclosed this in passing. I will never know why she kept this as a secret, not just from me but her mother. I will never know why she didn’t trust the health system long enough to truly take all the symptoms she was experiencing seriously. I only have questions, many that I know I will never have answers for now that she is gone. But for tomorrow and, beyond, I am willing to begin with trust, will to begin with listening, willing to learn and hopefully willing to work with any one to lead a concrete and path-breaking strategy focused on cervical cancer elimination. I expect the struggle to come. Many have warned us of it. But I close with this, at least generations will know we struggled, we did it our way too, so no woman would die from something so preventable. I have been dreading writing anything on the one year anniversary of your passing Angi. Dreading it because I’ll rather hear you say my name or ask about the kids or just simply chat about makeup or anything else your heart desires. So these little notes are all I have with the hope that someday, someone will asked how you died and I will be quick to say, ooh but you lived. You lived.
Note on desire:
A long desire. To see and be. Another encounter. Longer than the first. Two eyes locked. Or lips talked. These notes are for you. Though dead but living. Something tried. Your cervix, a thing. Follow its form. Learn it’s lines. Then see you. It takes a long time to see. Even longer to be.
Note on Something so small:
They need to know your name. Not the way you died. Not the cervix that caused you to die. Not the pain we fail to hide. Not the tears we still shed inside. About how something so small, can kill an Angel with all its might.
Note on Seed:
I will find you again. Not like a stalk , but a seed. Death is undeserving of you. Life resembles a birds foot. Only that we chose to soar, choose to fly above the pain your cervix caused. We know pain. But we also know life. And return to you not with fury, but with force, not when your death planted this seed.
Note on She lived:
I imagine someone will ask one day, how did Angi die? I will remind them again, of how she lived. How in life, she personified all our hopes and vision. For a better recognition of what the public envisions. For their health, like their life. We will neither reject nor denounce her cervix. Not when it reminds us to be careful. Reminds us to remember the power of endless beginnings. Reminds us to bear a responsibility to something. Or one day someone will ask the same question, wanting to know too, how we died or lived.
My son drew a picture of himself at school today. He was dressed in a blue cape and black pants. I asked if he was inspired by Sonic the Hedgehog given similarities in the shade of blue. He shared that it wasn’t but rather it was a picture of him with a cape full of precious jewels. There were nine of them scattered all over his cape and in all shades of colors from green to blue, brown to black and pink. I asked why jewels and not something else. He noted because jewels are his favorite rocks and he wanted to draw something he loved that was close to his heart. He is only five. This image is my keep for today as it’s a reminder to keep what you love, close to your heart.
For my son it’s jewels. They come in all shapes and colors but they are nevertheless precious to him and worth keeping close to his heart even if in the form of a cape. For me, these days it’s anything that allows me to serve, like my love for grant writing. Commitment to writing grants is a commitment to service. I rarely write grants for the glory. Sure the accolades are nice when they come. But more than anything, this idea of a grant being in service to others is what’s close to my heart. I don’t do it for the reward. The sleep at the end of sleepless nights are much better. I’m also not interested in whether it becomes an icing on the cake for my academic career or not, none of that is important. What moves me instead, is whether any of the grants I write can be of service to others.
I also expect them to fail and the failed ones are just as significant for the insights they add that in my opinion are often not ready to be judged by reviewers, but yet powerful. Imagine a sustainable marketplace for HIV prevention or defining what implementation success entails or even a sustainability scale for resource limited settings. Yes, those are some title of ideas in service of others that may never come to life but they continue to inspire me even though they failed.
My grants then for me are a site of service. It’s my most innovative, my most pioneering and often my most audacious work and to think that I do it for others, keeps me grounded. It’s that notion that allows me to juggle one grant at least every other month. The irony is that I may seem like I’m not busy. Kids will take up all my time, but wait till I get a vision for a grant in service to others with a deadline, and we’ll it will be written in a week or two. It won’t be perfect as then the editing begins, but they will have something close that will make editing either seamless or painful. Commitment to writing grants in this way is often not successful. It’s a competition after all and may the best grants win. Plus even if it fails, there is always another deadline and a commitment to make the grant better all because of the people it’s originally in service for.
I expect my grants to always be at odds with what mainstream folks want and well when you subscribe first to service, expect your grants to seek first to challenge and change anything the dominant ideology suggests should be the norm. It won’t be easy, but writing in this ways helps me to remain accountable to those that matter. It also opens my heart and mind to conditions that allow us to last beyond one or 5 years, conditions that honor what matters to you, conditions I keep close to my heart always, just like my son and his jewel covered cape. I will never dominate whether the grants succeed or fail. It was never the intent. Rather, with each success or failure, I look forward to asking the question over and over again; how can a grant be of service to you? These are the things I keep close to my heart with grant writing, like a set of jewel covered cape.
A couple of days ago, my daughter shared a drawing of all the things she loved. She call it her tree of love. Her name was nestled in the middle of a big green tree and surrounded by all the things that matter to her like playing music, writing, sleeping, swimming and doing somersaults. This image, though simple, is my question for today for all of us in academia. What do you love and how do you intend to keep it?
For me these days, it’s writing as the spirit moves me. The words of the late bell hooks provides some food for thought: ‘if we fail to privilege critical writing about work that emerges from a progressive standpoint, we will not see a change in how that work is critically received.’
I value critical writing whether as a grant or story or anything else. I started this blog to do so with my parenting and productivity in academia. The idea of centering the public, even our lives in all we do, needs our critical attention and regard. Needs also to be witnessed. I’m in a phase of my life where witnessing academia as I see it is all that matters. The ability to courageously speak my mind, to talk about my work, my life, as the spirit moves me, is the point of this blog. I don’t do this for impact factors or references. I do it to call attention to all that moves me at whatever time I like and in whatever format I choose, knowing no one owns any monopoly on anything, not storytelling, not poetry, not art, not even grants, my medium for real, equitable change that impacts lives. Learning to see is the foundation of my work here.
Within academia, we have all been taught to value papers. We were taught that no matter what, publish or perish and ensure that whatever you publish ends up in a journal with high impact. If the spirit has given one the ability to write, then don’t write one or two, try 6 or 10 or whatever the spirit ordains that exemplifies plenty. Many of us listened and proceeded with the onerous and laborious process of writing papers that no one in the public reads.
I’m in a phase where this task, while still important, isn’t the only thing I do anymore. Very few have been taught that the engine that moves our field, lies in the funding you bring. Few have been taught about ways to interrogate this other form of life in academia. The form focused on creating spaces for the affirmation of critical grant writing about all that ails our people. If you want to make a change, real sustained changed in people’s health and well-being, don’t write another paper. Instead, get a grant.
The system will want to exploit and oppress you and remind you that you need papers for tenure. Agree with them, then work for your grant. The system will count your papers, tell you that you don’t have enough in high impact journals. Tell them you are working on it, and focus on your grants. The system will judge you harshly if you are a woman, Black like me and within a child-bearing age. Accept their judgments, even when it comes from women like you, and still work on your grants. They can remind you, count for you and even judge you. But, they can never take what belongs to you and that is the idea in your head that birthed the grant in the first place. Not the money. That too will pass and you will be judged whether it’s $10k or $3million. Nothing is ever enough.
I am learning that everyday. Imagine sitting in a meeting where folks are talking about clinical trials and you share your opinion and you are told your trial doesn’t count because it’s a population based trial. That’s what the system will do. And when it’s comes for you (it will, in due time) just remember the words of Bessie Head, ‘ we tolerate strangers because the things we love cannot be touched by them.’ Remember the things you love about your work. It comes natural to me in the grants I write. Hold on to them, care for them, as they are all that matter in the ends, like this blog I keep, to remind me to keep what matters to me.