What happens when you become antiracists. I woke up early today and wrote a series of what I call what happens. Derrick Bell was to blame. I wanted to use them to teach my daughter about symbols, about failure, about questions, about life in general, but most of all what happens when she becomes anti-racist. I finally got to the end of Derrick Bells ‘Faces at the Bottom of the Well’ and I couldn’t help but now become a true believer in the permanence of racism.

Derrick Bell

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, this idea that justice for faces at the bottom of the well can’t actually be won in the United States. I bought this book last year at the height of all the racial reckoning and kept keeping it at a distance, not ready to confront the reality I knew was nestled within the pages of this book. Until this weekend. This weekend, I confronted the bitter truth of racism in America with the finest legal scholar that ever lived. I can see why people laughed it off when he once shared his opinion. Few people are prepared to confront this harsh reality about life in this country. ‘If racism is permanent, what is the point of the struggle’ as Michelle Alexander points out in her foreword. Granted accepting the permanence of racism does not mean accepting racism itself. Bell himself suggested this as well. His book has so many truths lurking for today, especially whether the battle can ever be won. And so for those who choose to become antiracists, know these truths about racism stated so eloquently by Derrick Bell:

That the cause is greater for those who choose hope rather than despair.

Those who recognize the futility of action and the conviction that something must still be done.

Those who know racism is permanent, not fleeting.

Those who see it in their real lives, not in sentimental minds.

Those who choose survival, rather than being silent.

Those who choose light rather than darkness.

Those who choose freedom rather than bondage.

Those who know there is no giving up, even as history continues to unfold.

Those who choose to be counted as antiracists for as long as racism exists.

For them, there is still hope, still meaning, even in this struggle to become antiracists.

In the span of 49 minutes, in the early hours of this morning, while reading Derrick Bell’s ‘Faces at the Bottom of the Well,’ I had changed my sons diaper twice, given him a bath once. He was suffering from a bout of diarrhea and I was hoping he would go back to sleep so I read in peace. Eventually he slept off just as I finished reading the second chapter on Afrolantica Awakening. It was the awakening that has been burning inside me, manifested through the words of Derrick Bell in the second chapter of his book.

The idea of Afrolantica seemed profound, not as a concept but more so for it’s possibilities, it’s liberation. Imagine what can happen when you move towards light. That to me is the premise of this chapter. The idea of working together, planning together also, for our collective liberation. We have all been enslaved for too long. Our minds have bought into certain ways deemed appropriate, even acceptable for too long, that the idea of being different, the idea of even moving in different cycles is an aberration. In the meantime, there is freedom for all, if we all work together to liberate ourselves, if we all pool ourselves resources to free ourselves from the shackles that continue to enslave our minds.

In Afrolantica, you find an awakening. You also find uniformity of support, opposition for majority, but defiant determination from those with ready to oppose the oppressors. We can all bear witness to the greatest gift we have nestled inside ourselves if we move towards this awakening, RBI’s ability to free ourselves. That’s the lesson I am taking away with this chapter. The idea that neither grief or despair can diminish what we already possess: an awakening. Not of places, or even phases, or even people, but of our minds. It will always be worth it when you take the courageous step to liberate your mind, to unlearn all that once occupied your mind, to act on your own, with a mind free from oppression.

Afrolantica is an awakening so inspiring, so liberating. An awakening full of deep satisfaction, deep cooperation too. An awakening of what we already possess, what is inherent in all of us. An awakening for those looking for something better, those willing to try even if they don’t find it. An awakening full of truth, full of knowledge of ways to act on our own. An awakening for our own kind of people, our own kind prepared to glow in collective confidence, flow in self-confidence too. An awakening grounded in the spirit of participation, engagement too, not as one, but a collective fighting for generations upon generations. An awakening whose very foundation will spread to others far and wide. An awakening that recalls the tenacity for human life, the tenacity to survive all efforts to dehumanize or obliterate thousands of people that look like you and me. An awakening so infectious that it burns a fire this time, for a generation with renewed tenacity. An awakening this generation knows we possess so well, the tenacity of those that came before us. An awakening we will hold on to, an awakening you should hold on to: that one day, somewhere in the world, a generation will rise up too, to showcase what they know they actually possess, that their minds too are liberated, and somehow, someway, they too will work to move generations towards light. This is the awakening we have all being waiting for and this generation is prepared for the journey towards Afrolantica.

We have orange day lilies in our garden. My kids and I spotted them. Their beauty greets the eyes in an unexpected, but magnificent way. It is impossible to stop staring at them. Nothing about them is hidden from view. Their distinctive orange color, in a sea of green shrubs, bores down into your soul. They truly demand that you notice them. And you will, even if for a brief moment. Not even your eyes will deny their communion. Yet for all it’s beauty, for all its dazzling mist which permeates your being in slow bursts, these blooming orange day lilies lasts for a day. For some reason, I keep dreaming about ways we in public health can become like day lilies, even if for a day.

This is because we have been dragging our feet through concrete floors for too long. Making no sound as we walk. With footsteps followed only by us and not the public. Our beauty is hardly known by the public, by us even. Ahead, knowledge of how things should be with no change in style or substance. Not with our curriculums or courses. Not with our frameworks or theories. None of it speaks of multiple layers of racism and the daily realities that even the public demand that we do something about. Behind, a new generation of learners, listeners, activists, gazing out to the field. Wondering whether this is truly what they signed up for. As they draw nearer, they too look outward to the direction of our gaze. They too become aware of a sharp disconnect between the public and the public’s health. We have not dared to glance behind us even though we know they are near. The new generations and us are inseparably linked forever by what the public demands and what we do even if for a day. Each failure to advance who we are, what we do, or why we do it, is deadly for the public, inaction with racism and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, being a clear example.

I keep wondering, why public health keeps being left behind. We got left behind during the pandemic. Our messages on wearing masks or practicing social distance was viewed by some in the public with suspicion. For their own health too. Our messages on getting vaccinated whether old or young, was also viewed by some in the public with suspicion. Even still for their own health. Our papers do not reflect the realities of every day people, including the insidious impact of racism in all spheres of our influence. Nothing in our introductions, methods, results or discussions humanizes the public either. We have grown accustomed to presenting findings that serve us and not the public we serve. No sane person talks about their health the way we do.

But now, the pandemic and acknowledgement of the pervasive role of racism has wrenched the doors wide open demanding that we do something. Demanding that we walk, so our footsteps maybe felt by people, not institutions or open sources. Will we wave our hands in surrender to the public, or will we keep walking, with no sound, along concrete floors?I suppose time will tell. For now, dreams of daylilies will do.

I remember where I was a little over a year ago watching social media feeds of man lying on the ground saying words that have now become to familiar “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd may have left the world a year ago to day, but his legacy reverberates and will continue to remain long after my days on this earth are numbered. There is a healing necessary for all to have, critical if you are black or brown. George in uttering those familiar words meant that I even the air I breathe will be used for justice in his name. I woke up today looking at the labor of love that I have been engaged in the past 30 days. It’s an audacious task this desire in me to let people’s legacy live on and George is by far top of my list. For as long as I can breathe, my hope is for no black or brown boy or girl, woman or man, to ever say those words he uttered on that faithful day. And if they do, if we continue to fail the next generation of boys and girls, then as a group, as humanity, we are doomed. The work is fraught with difficulties, but I am committed to doing my part.

Over 200 people die prematurely every year. This is according to Dr. David Williams of Harvard University. The cause, racism. Enough is enough. I don’t even have the words to back this up because there are no words. It’s is a public health crisis. One that is literally killing people unnecessarily. We have all got to do something about this so another set of 200 people do not die in vain. That’s the keep for today. End racism is all spheres of life

The four top stories on NPR this morning were on gun violence. Three of them were on police violence on minority lives, black lives, black men, a teen, Adam, who was only 13 and in 7th grade. Despite what they say, his last acts where his hands up in the air. Then in an instance he too became a name we add to the air. A familiar stance. We have been here before too and once again we say his name not for fame but because his life, like the lives of all God’s children mattered despite the trauma another mother, another family, another community encounters.

There is a virus that is spreading as fast as wildfire. The name is racism and the victims are minorities, black lives, black men, black boys in the hands of those sworn to protect them. It sickens me as a black mother. It keeps me hypervigilant even though my black boys are only babies. I see their smiles this morning, all three of them. I listen to their empty banter about food on the floor and whether it’s still safe to pick it up and eat. I watch as they play with each other, while eating and shudder for what tomorrow holds, whether their future would be whole. It’s the same helpless, restless thoughts that continues to consume and frighten every black mother I know raising black boys in America today. This virus has left all of us vulnerable, all of us helpless, all of us restless, all of us ready to become resilient, and all of us in desperate search of ways to usher healing from this vicarious racial trauma that inflicts its trauma in our lives in a continuous manner. Healing is the only thing that we want. Not because we can bring an end to exposures from racism or racial traumas but because we can and want to take ownership of the future we want for our children. One where they will be free to be and live as children, as boys, and men, with black lives that matter. Its an ambitious ask. I know. But we have to become bold for this transformative healing. It’s may also seem trivial our hope for healing but it’s the only thing that seems to matter so no mother feels a hole for their child who deserves to be whole. It’s my ask for today. Keep demanding for healing from this trauma for us by us.

Many and wide scale efforts have been made to address some of the most intractable health disparities of our time. Still and even in the presence of evidence, many people do not have access to these evidence-based practices. How far research evidence can make an impact is an open question, one that I am prepared to answer, not necessarily with new ideas, but with disseminating existing evidence-based ones that work. Granted, they say it can take 17 years to get evidence-based practice to people who them. 17 years, while my people die and perish for tools that actually exist. We don’t have 17 years to wait. Rather, turning what works for those in need of healing is a very serious matter. Take racism for example, we don’t have 17 years to address the continuous exposure to racial trauma caused by this ism that continues to torment and destroy our spirit every day. We don’t have 17 years to wait for yet another bright idea that may never get to people in need of healing. We don’t have 17 years for even research, only solutions that usher in healing today, tomorrow in a manner grounded in sustainability. We simple don’t have 17 years to heal our differences.

Communities of color will adopt these ideas if you show them the evidence. Many of them already use these ideas but are in need of evidence-based strategies to understand for example, how they work, whether they are using them correctly or how to increase engagement or how to make them last. That’s where researchers like me come in. I am passionate about making what already works, work. I am passionate about creating platforms so people in need of healing with evidence-based strategies can use them now. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. For all we know, the future will include more racism and exposures to racial violence that literally kill our children. Our best hope, our best guide through this continuous oppression that seems to have no end in sight is to reach for light, insist on its presence with tools that are destined to usher healing from day 1.

To be forming such a group with like-minded scholars passionate about doing this work is my greatest joy. I really don’t know where this will take me but for my community, for my children, for black and minority youth in the US, my spirit is restless. I also refuse to sleep until something gives. It’s now my greatest calling, to use the gifts I never knew I had to make sense of ways to usher healing until. The more I dig with my professional life, the more I do the thing which keeps me alive, and hopeful. That thing called storytelling and grantwriting. The more I hone in on this skill, irrespective of whether i succeed or fail, the more I realize we already have tools that work, evidence-based ones too. I am on a mission to bring it to the people that need it the most, to make space so it lasts. Until then, keep penning a way through healing our differences.

Much can be learned about butterflies by watching them. I had the privilege of doing so a couple of days ago. With the Spring weather now glorious in Saint Louis, we went for a walk around my neighborhood. The eastern rosebuds were in full bloom along the road and so were the butterflies you see along the way. During our walk, I came across one that allowed me to take its picture from a close distance without flying away. I would later learn it’s name as I am not familiar with butterfly species. The one I saw was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. The researcher in me did what I know how to do best.

My first glimpse of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.
A closer look.

In the process of learning about this butterfly, I came across the following worth sharing. For this butterfly, even its beauty is fragile and a major source of predation. But of all I read, that they live an average of 2 weeks kept me alert. Not only do they spend their winter as pupae in extreme cold, but when they break their chrysalis and become butterflies in the Spring, they only last for about 2 weeks. Aggressive encounters with all sorts of predators including birds often result in their demise. That they would do all they can to survive harsh winters, just for Spring to arrive and still not make it is a reminder to keeping knowing just how multiple forms of predation, aggression, even oppression interact to still kill us. Despite our best intentions, despite even our pleas for our lives, our breath, our being, we are still killed whether directly as with the death of George Floyd, or indirectly as with the collective trauma many of us feel now, listening to expert after expert detail how life was sucked out of a man in handcuffs during a trial that should not be. Our presence, our appearance, our being, no matter how beautiful, no matter how dutiful, can and will kill us. It is for this reason that we have to do our part to dismantle racism and protect ourselves. These Eastern Tiger Swallowtail engage in elaborate mimicry to survive. It works in the short term as it helps them proceed from a pupae to a butterfly.

Getting close.

To understand why we find ourselves here, with racism now being declared as a public health threat, we are fortunate to learn from the the experience of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. What if we learn from them and use the lessons they use to survive a fragile life where their demise like stark racism is pervasive, severe, far-reaching and unacceptable. What if we gather all the resources we can find and use them to become resilient in the face of potential exposures to racism and racial traumas. We are afterall, all George Floyd. Every Black person in America can be denied to opportunity to live, to breathe, play, or even gather, because of racism. Now imagine the trauma that can entail, the burden not just for ourselves but for generations of children yet in the world. We can also become his legacy and use his presence, his appearance, his being to survive. We can and will survive because George Floyd paid the ultimate price to do the work necessary to dismantle all forms of racism. For him, our appearance like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies will be beautiful, our survival profound, and our legacy lasting and our resilience, sterling. That’s the lesson I’m keeping. A desire to still be resilient despite exposure to racism, an opportunity to be and to still remain beautiful like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly despite living in a fragile world.

Final closeup photo of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

I got my second COVID-19 vaccination shot yesterday. I am elated to finally complete this process. So many unnecessary lives were lost just so I live. Something I don’t take for granted. That and the fact that racism was at the root cause of the inequities we all witnessed first hand with the pandemic. Racism meant that there were structural barriers, pervasive one that contributed to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Racism meant that individuals and families and communities of color were most impacted by the pandemic. Racism also meant that more healthcare workers of color, an estimated 3,600 health care workers in the USA died from the pandemic and two thirds were people of color. Let that sink it for a moment. An estimated 66% of the health care workers that died as a result of the pandemic were people of color. So yea, racism is a serious public health problem and I applaud bold leaders like the director of CDC for describing it as such. For me, I am alert, restless maybe, for light, for change. Something has to give.

Yesterday award-winning author, Dr. Ibram Kendi lectured on ‘How to be an antiracist,’ at Saint Louis University as part of our college’s Social Justice Annual Lecture. In his book of the same title, Dr. Kendi talked about how antiracist must remain ‘fighters, tireless, durable,’ but fight in other to succeed.

There were so many questions I wanted to ask from the book but we only had one hour with Dr. Kendi so I’ll ask them here. What if we fight and still have knees on our neck? What if we fight and still get colon cancer like you did or breast cancer like your wife did all at a young age? How do you fight a system truly rotten to it’s core with tumors in some cases or no chance at life in others, not for George Floyd or Breonna Taylor and the list goes on and on? How do you dismantle the system of its racist policies with tools that are off the system, tools that are focused on self-interest? Audre Lourde said it best, ‘we cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.’ Can antiracists still hold conservative views in 2020? Dr. Amber Johnson’s eloquent question still rings bells in my hears and I am not sure what your actual response was (not your fault my kids were listening too with my 8year old daughter inspired to see a real-life ‘book writer’).

You shared a W.E.B Du Bois quote where he asked Black people ‘How does it feel to be a problem?’ To that you replied and in 2020, ‘How does it feel to be a solution?’ I am guessing this is what you mean by antiracists must fight. Antiracists are the solution and the only way solutions have a chance to survive is to fight.

Antiracists fight so that opportunities and outcomes are equal between groups. Antiracists fight so that policies, not people, are blamed for societal problems. Antiracists fight so that nearly everyone has enough. Antiracists fight for power to become mainstream and ideas common sense until success is achieved. Success, Dr. Kendi noted, will be based on what antiracists are ‘willing to do.’

We can survive metastatic racism just as you survived metastatic stage-4 colon cancer and your wife with stage-2 breast cancer. It will take a fight for us all to treat racism like we treat cancer. Listening to you last night, gave me the hope and believe in the possibilities of fighting to become the solution. Fighting to transform our society. Fighting to give humanity a chance to survive. It will take a fight for us all to survive and like you, I am ready to fight.