In a 1987 interview with Chris Searle, Chinua Achebe shared why it took him nearly 15 years before he wrote his next novel ‘Anthills of the Savannah.’ It’s is one of my favorite of all his books for his critical stance on the significance of the story. The story, according to Achebe, is ‘our escort through life without which we are doomed. It’s the story that remains to convey all our gains, all our failures, all we hold dear, even all we condemn. The story is the only way we keep going from generation to another, almost like a transfer of genes, to the next generation,’ Achebe noted, a transfer far more important than anything else. I always come back to interview as a guide for what I do professionally. I may call it different things, papers, grants, implementation science, global health, but really at the core of what I do, there is a story that keeps brewing, one focused on the people I work with, one totally committed to helping them tell their stories. It’s their stories that will get us to a healing, healthful generation, their stories will transform and help to convey what is important, what is of value, and what must be preserved and yes Chinua Achebe is leading me all the way.

Towards the end of the interview Chinua Achebe talked about the dangers ahead for those committed to whatever stories they are telling to their generations. We can all be antiracists for example with public health, that’s my hope, using tools that begin to center the public as they find the words to tell their stories, but until then, Chinua Achebe noted that we will struggle. He stated that for those committed to the story, there are dangers on the way, mostly because of our human condition, one where our lives are always soaked in a struggle. We may never know whether what we are doing will bear fruit and even if we fail, hopefully those that come after us, may learn from our struggles. That is the great hope and my keep for today turned into verse (all inspired by this interview) with Achebe reminding all of us interested in health equity work to know:

There are still dangers in the way. Still a lot of work ahead before we all achieve equity, before we all become antiracists. Until then, we shall always struggle for our people, struggle for their dreams, struggle for their light, struggle for their plight, struggle with our might, struggle at night, struggle during the day, struggle for a say, struggle for pay, struggle while we play.

We struggle for justice, struggle to end injustice. Struggle for voices, that struggle to be heard. We struggle to achieve, struggle for what we believe, struggle to see, struggle to simply be, struggle while we flee, struggle with their knees, struggle with our hands held up, struggle with our heads held up, struggle to rise up, struggle to even standup.

Some of us struggle to cope, struggle for hope, struggle out of scope, struggle with their grope.

We struggle with racism, struggle with sexism, struggle with ageism, struggle with classism, struggle with ableism. We struggle for optimism, struggle against their narcissism, struggle with their pessimism, struggle for our activism, struggle with their symbolism.

We struggle for our lives, struggle for ourselves, struggle for all our gains, struggle when it rains, struggle in pain, struggle in vain. Still we struggle to breathe, struggle to eat, struggle in heat, struggle till beat, struggle for seat, struggle in defeat.

We struggle to survive, struggle to thrive, struggle for our values, struggle for importance, struggle for what we preserve, struggle even if we fail, struggle even as we struggle.

We struggle for our past, struggle for today, struggle for tomorrow, struggle for our history, struggle for our story.

Today marks the first anniversary death of Jazz Dixon. Not only was her life cut too short at 31 years of age, but she became the first known death due to COVID-19 in Saint Louis City where I live. I remember her today, because she lived. For all of us living, our monumental task has just begun. We cannot forget people like Jazz. We cannot forget how even with her death, she lives on. She brought the best to life as an employee of American Red Cross so we never forget her humanity. Her true life’s story is that she lives on to soothe us, even in death; to help us remember, if we are lucky to live; to tell the fundamental truth of disparities, racism, and their underlying conditions, if only our minds will open; to bring healing, if only we we let her story guide us, let her story extend our horizon, let her story be our escort through life.

May her soul Rest In Peace.

Over 579,000 in the US have died from COVID. Let us not forget them. Let us instead remember their beauty as best as we can. Remember their being, who they were, what they did, how they touched lives, how the lived. They may all be gone, but their deaths are not in vain, not when the next pandemic is inevitable. I hope their deaths remain a reminder and dialogue and an opportunity to enrich our lives. Jazz drifts about quietly in my soul, as a reminder to listen, to learn, to never stop living, on this journey through life. The shape of my life makes sense because of the pandemic, because of people like Jazz. And for her, I still say to keep the dead of COVID in mind. They all have stories to tell, one that will remain, long after this pandemic ends.