What’s so nice about our home in the evening is that everybody is there. Dad in his blue scrubs, sitting on a chair. A child on every chair and grandma too. Rice on the table with fried plantains and fish stew. All of us, smiling, as we eat, hoping the night lingers as we sit, hoping we stay awhile, until the at least the last plantain is gone.

Eunice in the Evening by Gwendolyn Brooks

I have been re-reading Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks. It’s simplicity is stunning. I love everything about this book, Eunice in the evening being one of my favorite as it reminds me of my own home too these days. Dinners together are a treat, one we cherish on days when Dad happens to be home. It inspired my thoughts above. Keep evenings with your family.

Words that flow, like eyes that see the bluest moon, leave me breathless. Lavishly they give meaning, a justice that endures. Where they begin, clear and steady, leaves a wide range of emotions that is ushering these words I write in praise. I see windows within my soul open up with these words. These are not words deep or profound. No need for prose that deplete. Rather these words lift like air when eyes read them out loud.

Wherever they erupt, every time, they emit fire, these words fight battles that burst open a heart’s desires. These are not words uncombed or falling apart. They are not words untied like shoes or caked in dirt from mud. They are words that stare, those that burrow deep, questioning nothing, but asking everything. Neither unblinking or unabashed, these words neither hover nor settle like flies where dead things lay. Rather the breathe of each word, every single letter used, like lipsticks on lips thick, is unflinching as it is bold.

Each word forces you to look at everything. Insist that everything looks at it too. Words we know and those we don’t. Those that speak truth and those that seek it too. Those that begin things, a dream, another way of living supreme. Words naked like light or those perishable at night. Those that uncover rotted leaves, or those that shovel out all our disbelieves. Words for the dust that rises or the dirt they hide. Words that imprint, those that delight, those quiet, those strangely pleasant, all the ways they cling together, lifting off pages, together, intoxicates.

The one who who write these words, how they build them like nest, stick by stick, word by word, all the ways they make it their own, brash and brazen, daring and dashing, not weak, but wild, not cautious but courageous, every single time leaves me breathless.

Keep them and their words.

I have been re-reading Toni Morrison’s The bluest eyes with a new lens. I read it a long time ago and kept my copy for a moment like now, when all I want to do is study how the masters play with words. She is one I wish could come back again and again to teach and reach every single crevice where I hope words can begin in me. Her gift is unlike no other and The bluest eyes captivates as it stirs. Re-reading it again, but this time with a lens focused on things to keep, leaves me drunk with all the words she deftly put together to tell a story. I’ll break my thoughts about the book one day, but in the meantime what I wrote above is in praise of this woman, who still teaches what to keep, long after she took her last breath. She is the master of this thing I mean when I say what will you keep. You might as well keep your stories or words that leap out of pages. Either, I am studying the master and she truly intoxicates.

A womb tells the beginning of your story. Life forgets it’s continuity. Yet, if your stories, instead of theirs, your life, instead of their own. All your gains, instead of defeat. Your pain too, instead of deceit. If your lillies bloomed in any way. Your roses only registered thorns. Your days are as days. Your nights too, like nights.

If only you spoke of all the ways the rain fell on your head. A clear view of your flood. Those that deflated or those that manifested into all the sum of you. If you ever disappeared, even if for a minute, in your thoughts or in reality, all the moments, distant or near, that are simultaneous with your years. If there were no colors in your life, no dash of pink in Spring, or yellow in the summer, if only black and blue, then the telling of that will do. If there were hours unaccounted for. Labor unpaid. Tears unknown, joy undiscovered, desires unfulfilled, even delight unspeakable, only insight may salvage all the residue that remains.

So then tell all the arcs you know. Those that bent all the way to the ground, those that lost the ground or those that flapped up to foreground. Tell all the moments flowers made you smile. Dahlia’s or daffodils will do. Remember the rain, the depths of the fall or floods. Remember too ending hours of your existence, the earth beneath your feet, ideas that persisted, or encounters that made you rise, all before your sun sets.

Picture from Homemade Love by bell hooks.

When the hours of your existence have been accounted for, what will remain? I woke with this need to ask myself this question. Who will tell my story for me, just the way I would want it to be told? We die, that may be the meaning of our lives, said Toni Morrison. But we do language and that maybe the measure of our lives. So when your time is up, how would your life be measured? With the things you did and as told by those behind, or with your own words and as told by you.

I want my words to do the talking. I want it to talk back even when I’m gone. I want it to speak of all the ways I lived, the flowers I kissed, or the storms that persisted. Either way, our memories are all we have and we can keep them now, even as we breathe.

So to those wondering whether it’s worth keeping, these moments of our living, know that your stories are worth it. Keep it.

Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? This question has always haunted my spirit. It’s from Toni Cade Bambara’s novel, The Salteaters. It is also apt for today. That and what does being well mean for the public’s health, from a social justice lens, radical wellness too and not from experts alone, or those who have credentials, but from you the general public and with your fiction or nonfiction?

Who are your go to references for being radically well and how do you even begin to define wellness for yourself? Of course it led me down a rabbit hole, one where I am now obsessed with how people, those in fiction and non fiction, those with expertise and none, define what they mean by wellness.

I have been struck by the myriad of ways people define wellness, especially those focused on people of color. It matters to me these days that for the public, we define what wellness means, not just from what the dominant literature may tell us, but from everyday people who continue to struggle with answering the question: ‘Are you sure, sweetheart, you want to be well.’ So, from what I gathered from the Bettina Love’s profound book ‘We want to do more than survive’ wellness is:

A choice

A type of freedom that comes when you let go of your fears and move your anger into a space of healing.

Wisdom and being well is hard work.

Part of social justice work.

An inner life that refuses to be treated less than human.

Being vulnerable.

Finding the roots of your own Black Joy, Black love, and humanity.

Choosing to see ourselves beyond illness or disease.

Having an inner self that can be quiet and enjoy life.

Recognizing the pain of our ancestors knowing the beauty and resilience of that pain lives on in us.

Knowing who you are regardless of what is thrown at you.

Integenerational.

Different for different people.

Healing that is unrecognizable to White people and different from them.

Being your best self while fighting injustice.

Fighting racism with life, grace, compassion.

Having mental space and freedom to dream, give hell, and retreat to one’s community of love for support, fulfillment, and nourishment.

Being whole.

Bringing your full self.

Joining others in the fight for humanity and antiracism in love and solidarity.

Confronting internalized White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Isamophobia, fat phobia, classism, ableism, and the rage that comes as a result of these hateful ideas.

Keep doing more than surviving with these radical wellness definitions in mind.

Keep Professor Love’s approach to wellness in mind.

There was a time, all I did was fail with every grant I wrote. Welcome to a new month. I woke up to an email sent to the entire university celebrating a recent success today. I am honored and grateful but I can’t help but remember the times of failure. Yes, failure. Sure the messages and all the well-wishes, have been heartfelt and words fail me. But it’s the failures that I want to dwell on today. I want you reading this to know that success comes at a major cost. For me, with every one grant you see that is successful, there were close to 7 (in my beginning days, but now 2-3) that were not successful. So when I see this beautiful write up of one success, my heart goes out to wrinkles along the way. All of them that paved the way to make this one success come through.

So with the story of STAR, what many may not know was that it was written after a major loss. I had written a grant called, I-ARISE. I love naming all my grants by the way and everyone writing a grant should always be intentional with their names.

I-ARISE was over $13 million or so. It was and still remains the most expensive NIH grant I have ever assembled. It also failed. I went into depression. I still remember seeing the news of it’s failure that faithful July month and just being in a rot for days. I didn’t eat. Just slept in my room and cried and cried and wondered why such a beautiful grant failed. When I got through the sadness, I got our team together and we immediately started taking pieces of it apart. What many may not know was that I-ARISE became LIGHT (see here:LIGHT), which was literally a sidenote on the grant. I turned one massive failure into the thing that gives me joy everyday.

See the side of the magazine. lol.

With the beginning of LIGHT, came thoughts on what else to do that would literally bring more light. Enter STAR. I-ARISE is also STAR and much better. We began writing that grant in August (please I do not recommend writing an NIH grant in a month. I just have a decade of experience with plenty failures).

We were also writing an NIH Fogarty D-43 at the same time. I tend to write 2 grants with similar deadlines. It seems to help me see things better. The D-43 was aptly called I-RISE, and yes it was my self-care attempt at getting over the failure of I-ARISE. The name alone got me through the failure. I worked on the D-43 literally feeling like I was rising from the ashes like a Phoenix.

While writing the D-43, I came across the NIAID R-25 announcement. They were both similar in nature, only that one was for my work in Nigeria, while the other would allow me to finally give back in the US. It was no brainer. I am a Penn State McNair Scholar, a Penn State MHIRT scholar, a Penn State Bunton-Waller scholar, all of which were geared towards helping minority students succeed at Penn State. McNair in particular was my first foray to research with Dr. Cassandra Veney, a woman studies professor, as my very first mentor ever. Dr. Airhihenbuwa was my second mentor. The two of them are the foundation upon which I stand.

I wrote the D-43 and R-25 at the same time. Deadlines were very close. D-43 in August, R-25 in September. The D-43 failed. It wasn’t even discussed. In fact, reviewers said I had no business or experience writing one, my paraphrase of their summary statement. The R-25 is what we celebrate today. I share this story because behind every success, there are failures and honestly I made crucial mistakes with the D-43. I saw them while writing the R-25. I needed to write the D-43 in other to get the one that was meant for me. I am nothing without my failures and I hope they inspire you to keep yours too. They will one day inspire your success. You can read the successful story here: STAR R-25 Grant . I only want you to keep all your failures in mind.

I spent 2 hours today learning, absorbing, and exchanging wellness, healing from what it means to be black and woman in academia. Many of us have been battered. The weights of all we carry chokes and continues to choke. But the power of our narrative, the gifts we offer and the knowledge we provide, our very essence which Toni Morrison once’s described as the ‘rim of the world,’ all of the the pieces of us, are valued, visible, no longer on tiptoes but standing tall and erect because we choose to transform our silence to action. The meeting was for a future podcast with Health Promotion and Practice. I was open about my experience and time as a public health researcher. Something that happened because of this blog.

Early on in the pandemic, I re-read Audre Lorde’s transformation of silence into language and action. In fact, it was my first attempt at facing myself as a black woman in academia. There have been many casualties along the way when we think of the black woman’s experience within a system we were never meant to survive in. There have been few warriors too.

I wanted to be one of them. So that meant I needed to confront the words that I did not yet have.

I knew there were things I needed to say. I knew I had swallowed so many things that even choked me in silence. So I choose to face my fears. I started my blog, as well as writing letters as we published in the journal, to acknowledge that I too, I am a Black woman, a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, myself, doing the necessary work of transforming my silence into action.

I hoped that through the blog and letter, other women like me would face their fears. These words from Ms. Lorde were the torch light for me: this idea, ‘that you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent.’ And to survive, each of us needs to learn first that we were never meant to survive. I channeled that knowledge into strength, and created a space where I have been chronicling all the ways I survive and continue to survive within a system I was never meant to survive.

So the fact that we are here, and we have this blog and now letter as a paper, even the podcast was our attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, knowing too for so many women that look like us, there are so many silences that need to be broken. Keep breaking them. You can download the paper below or read here: Dear Health Promotion Scholar

‘What you see is what you are and what you will become.’ Ben Okri said it best in his book ‘Astonishing the Gods.’ These days, what I am seeing is beyond me. They are truly wonderful things. Things that make one’s heart full. My heart is indeed full. I tried to dwell on it over the weekend. I’m still trying. Words fail me but know that I am grateful. January is cervical cancer awareness month and I get to launch a project that is near and dear to my heart in Nigeria tomorrow. I saw the project immediately cervical cancer came knocking at my door. In fact, I wrote the first version and submitted it before I knew how deep it would bury itself in our home. It buried itself and we are finally making sense of the journey ahead. Which is why I am all for those prepared to go on the journey. This isn’t a favor. Lord knows anyone around me isn’t doing me a favor. Know you came into my life. In situations where it is the reverse, know that my addition to your life is always for good. So whatever you see is me, is what we shall become. I will continue the journey with or without you. I know who started it and I know he will lead me all the way. Keep what you see!

Image from Nike Art Gallery

To a girl or a boy alone, know that you have a people, with their own histories, their own stories, their own mysteries, their own adversaries, their own victories, their own jewelries, their own galleries, their own sceneries, their own groceries, their own factories, their own sanctuaries, their own vocabularies, their own stationeries, their own missionaries, their own legionaries and their own visionaries. Even when you feel alone, know that you can always begin again with your own history.

I saw first hand, the power of never forgetting your history during our stay in Nigeria. It was at my husband’s mother’s home and I was mesmerized by the histories that remained within the home. For example, we came across a wooden stool, probably over 100 years and in close to pristine condition. The stool had a language of its own, with a history of its own still waiting to be told by generations that follow. I asked as much questions I could ask about it, took pictures to preserve our meeting together and that’s when it dawned on me, that I am never alone. Not when I have a history of my own, with stories and mysteries of my own. I wanted to know who made the stool and why. Who used it and for what occasion. I also had questions about the carvings, it’s four legs, the striking lines at the bottom, and the markings across the top. Here was a stool, in it’s own room, it’s own house, it’s own language that still conveys a message of it own, all while built with hands long gone. Even though all that is left is this image, the mere presence of the stool, is a reminder that our existence, our history matters. Keep it all.

The plans for this year was light. I planned to walk through flames, to risk the fires that burn, even in the cold, just so I get to the forest of light within. That was the new year plan. In one week, I have been informed by the year that this one will be a rollercoaster. Sit tight and hang on. If last year tried to consume you, this year is coming, bright and burning. And it’s only the 8th day. I opened my door this morning. Let the cold air seep in. I was reminded in that instant to breathe in. Cool air. Breathe in. Even as things burn. Breathe out. As smoke rises. Keep breathing. The year will come for you. Try to burn you too. Cold air will seep in. You will feel like you are sinking. Floors will give away. Yet, breathe in. Push them all back. Close the door. Breathe out. You have noticed the air. Noticed the smoke, and the sinking floors. But still, turn around and smile. They will not understand this air you breathe in.

The most sublime lessons are those learned and relearned. The post above was first written on the 8th of January, 2022. Now, a year later, the message feels like it was written today. I am keeping this year as a reminder to myself to keep breathing again and again. 2022 was indeed a rollercoaster. I still don’t expect folks to understand the air I breathe in 2023. Still, I intend to keep breathing.

Happy New Year.

Something about this moment,

This New Year again,

Feels like a renewal

A rebirth

A time for reimagination

Restoration

Release

Rest

Remeberance

Revival

Resolve

Revelations

And Revaluations.

Only, this time, I’m in a village,

And the pleasing sounds of rare birds and cocks crowing, goats bleating alongside more bird sounds chorusing through tall palm trees, keeps me ready for the boundless possibilities of this New Year.

I am at the gate of new realities for another new year, inhaling too, the fragrance of a well-deserved rest, and a lingering happy silence, but this time, I am still.

Will this gentle breeze I feel this moment, will these sounds endlessly start my day, will the earth remain as red as it is or the palm trees rustle with the breeze? Soon, I will leave these place but may all the things I feel for it, all the rest and release I received from this place, be with me as a New Year begins again.

I have been away. I desperately need it. I had to cut everything off. I also had no choice. I was in a remote village and no amount of wifi would work. We had three from 3 different companies and my most spoken word this past week was no reception. I let time and the moment go on as expected. It was the restoration my soul needed that I really didn’t fully know I needed. It gave me more clarity, gave me peace, gave me perspective and now bring on 2023.

If I make changes or move in another direction, know that’s it’s this thing called grace. It’s my revelation for 2023. How I also choose to reevaluate my life too. I have nothing but grace, and with it, I have everything I need. This grace is my word and mood for the year. I pray it leads me and you all the way in 2023.

I saw a soft radiant sunset last evening. We were driving through an estate whose name when translated from Igbo to English means ‘blessings are great.’ Everything about out evening, from the setting sun, to our time at the estate, was full of grace, full of blessings. No wonder an Igbo man retires home the last few days of a year. The sun, the estate and all its hidden meanings are all I need as we begin to close out 2022.

I knew there would be stares. I expected it. I knew many would never get his ways or ask questions about his tears. I didn’t realize they would stare, or laugh or drive us away. I also didn’t realize we would be shunned or pitied too as if to live with him is a deadly disease. I didn’t realize it would also come from those I considered family, those meant to protect and shield us from the questioning stares of strangers. That I would feel regret for bringing is all I feel. Questions keep playing in my head. What did I think would happen? How did I not know people would stare or shun us? Did I expect everyone to know and understand autism? What happens next too?

At first, all I felt was anger. Hatred too. I hated how they looked at us or shunned us. Hated that they would never get to know the bright boy we all know because his tears was deafening. Hated that I would now have to shield him more from the world and their ways. Hated that they see us from a lens of pity.

Truth is I have zero tolerance for people and their pitying ways. I’m able to live and thrive with what they see as chaos. He makes me a better being, with life, work and everything. I would never trade him for anything. He is what God brought our way anyways.

To the older gentleman that took care of us at the airport, the one who saw past his ways, his fears, the noise, the weariness, thank you. I know our paths may never cross, but I’m writing this because you were the first to show us humanity’s best in Nigeria with living and traveling with an autistic son. Your kindness and tenderness to us is not lost on me. Even the little walk you took with him helped to restore my faith in people. To the rest, cross me off your contact list. I’m petty like that. I really have no use for you in my life. I don’t care if you are still family. I can act and will win an Oscar where you are. I really have no need and desire to ever see or hear from you. You can save your pity for your existence.

How I feel these days with being a parent of a child with autism in Nigeria!