Some may never get your ways. That’s okay. Some may say it’s impact is not understood. That’s okay too. Some may say you work too hard and for nothing. That’s truly okay too. In fact not getting your ways or understanding what you do is perfectly fine. So long as you know who you are. So long as you remember always that you are light and so let your light shine. I keep coming back to this on days when things seem out of place not because there will be days when things are perfect but mostly for the days when things make no sense. On those days, on days when things are just as confusing to you and everyone wonders what’s the purpose after all. Tell them I said that it’s because you are light. You cannot be hidden. Even when your ways make no sense. As light, it does. Even when no one understands what you are doing. As light, he knows. Even when it’s impact isn’t as tangible as it should. As light, it is. In the end it’s for his glory. It’s for his praise. We are all called to be the light of the world. All of us are including you. So keep being light especially on days when things seem out of place. For as light, your glimmer, in fact, you cannot be hidden.
Micro aggressions are everywhere especially in academia. Uncovering them is key. Last week in discussions with a colleague, we shared how this word manifests in workplace environment. Not because we didn’t know it has always existed in academia, but to see it in full display made us cringe. It begins with small acts of exclusion. So small they often go unnoticed. If you are listening you’ll notice. They are never overt or explicit. Never obvious or even recognizable at first. Subtlety is its defining element and receivers know when they see it. Yet they are so ingrained in everyday behavior beginning from the tone of voice we use to, to the gestures we make, the terms we use or even the people we publicly acknowledge, all of that combined make up the perfect storm for micro aggression. And to be on the receiving end, to listen as your whole being is dismissed, denied, or even diminished can be so debilitating except you know yourself well. That is, you see yourself clearly enough to recognize the stakes of inaction. Thus confronting your micro aggressor becomes the next logical step. And when you do, the actions you observed so keenly maybe explained away, denied, and once more dismissed as a figment of your own imagination. It’s for this reason I say why bother. Micro aggressors will be micro aggressors. You will never change them. But you can change yourself. Rather than dwell on their act, learn from it, even write about it. As Toni Morrison once wrote in Beloved, ‘the only grace you would have (even from a micro aggressor) is the grace you imagine.’ So imagine grace for yourself. See it, feel it, then have it for yourself. And when you do, healing from micro aggression will begin. Keep this in mind and learn so you don’t become one.
I usually write in the morning. It’s my best time for thinking. But the past few weeks my mornings have been preoccupied with work. I have been in grant writing mode since the start of March. It’s has been a painful and bittersweet journey to get back into. The last time I went on this journey was about a year ago and well, I failed. So to get back on it again is full of trepidation. But still I continue. When your mind is as chaotic as mind, grant writing can truly become an obsession. Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Beautiful Struggle noted how when he obsessed, he wanted only what he wanted and gave no attention to other matters. Grant writing is like that for me, a beautiful struggle that keeps me transfixed whenever I begin. Someone asked awhile back to a catalogue my grant writing process. How do I begin and how do I end?
For starters the beginning is full of doubts. I try to find any reason not to write a grant, not to put myself through the process, not to even think that I may have any idea and that the idea may indeed be valuable. In the beginning, I dread the grant writing process. But then slowly it’s like I am bitten by a bug. A grant bug. I look for the deadlines. If it’s 2-3 months away, then it’s potentially doable. But more doubts creep in. Who are co-conspirators? Is it worth bringing them along? What will they add? Why even bother? There are more doubts in the way of starting any grant journey. They key is to wrestle through it with different folks until the bug bite becomes an itch that simply won’t go away. The more you scratch, the more the ideas start to make sense until you plunge headfirst, into a grant writing abyss that takes you on an never ending journey towards many unknown. I am currently on that journey. They doubts are still intense but the people I keep meeting across this journey are the fuel I need. Take for example today. I was in a room full of black scholars. All seven of us have one degree or the other and we came in all shades of brown skin so divine, that it makes you want to join Beyonce and say just how beautiful we are when we come together for our people. I have no idea where this particular grant journey is taking me. I am also prepared to fail. That’s another part of my process that I share with every one I encounter from the beginning. We may fail but I would still rather go in this journey with you. It’s is a journey after all and like I always say, I am glad I have a plan. Surrounding myself with the right people, learning from them, adapting or changing the course of the grant where necessary all while nurturing that which makes us unique is the reason I absolutely love grant writing. I keep diving head first to as it’s it’s a journey from the head to the soul for me and with the right people, i am prepared to fail. But what if we are transformative. That then is the start of an endless journey, once that the destination is still unknown. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything else (singing Brown Skin Girls)…
Keep winning. I got a great text message tonite. It basically said, congrats on winning the …raffle. I was speechless. We won? How? When? At first I thought this was a joke. We are almost through April, so anything maybe possible with making a fool out of me. But then I remembered that my kids school had a fundraiser yesterday. One of the most spectacular fundraisers I have ever seen. And it was virtual. The amount of money they raised during a pandemic is nothing short of phenomenal. I went to the school’s website to watch the event from yesterday. I scrolled all the way to the last 2 minutes and watched as the fundraiser chair put their hands in a pile full of 1100 raffle tickets. You guessed it. Out of 1100 tickets, a ticket with my name won. I am still speechless. I have watched the video numerous times and each time my ticket was picked and we were declared the winner. We had a blast today, with family and friends and winning this raffle ticket, well just simply made this day phenomenal. Keep winning. This picture, taken after church today, personifies the joy in my heart for today.
One of the key micronutrients for plants essential for stabilizing cell walls and membranes is calcium. It also acts as a second messenger helping plants sense and physiologically respond to environmental cues. So a soil’s calcium content is crucial for plants and their survival. Enter flowering dogwoods, a key source of calcium.
One of gems along the street by our home is an array of flowering dogwoods. Spring seems to be their time to shine. And they do with their bright pink colors dominating the sidewalk. Flowering dogwoods are best known for their high calcium content. Their foliage, twigs, and fruit are high in calcium and contains amounts that are above those needed for adequate skeletal growth by other species in the environment including birds and deers. But it’s their ability to improve soil content that I want to dwell on today. Flowering dogwood are known as soil improvers due to their calcium pumping technique. When their leaves litter, not only are they a rich and important source of calcium for soils, but they decompose more rapidly than other species making its calcium content more readily available to the soil below. Yet regardless of it abundance, only about 16% of its calcium content are sequestered to the soil and other species. The rest are retained within flowering dogwoods. The only way soils can tap into 84% of its calcium content is when the leaf litters around it. Let this sink in for a moment. For soils to access the rich intracelluar content of a flowering dogwood, the tree has to shed its leaves. Otherwise the calcium content remains within flowering dogwood. Which is why for me and today’s keep, motherhood for those who work and care for others is like a flowering dogwood.
The past few days of my life have been busy with me delving into a grant-writing full time. For the past seven years, most of my grant writing occurs during the Spring semester and my process is like the story of a flowering dogwood. On the surface, I’m just as pink as can be, truly bright and radiating with ideas that are as splendid as a flowering dogwood. Something about Spring season makes me feel alive and full of ideas hence grant writing. But can I be honest? No matter how much I write, my grants only get 16% of my time. Like flowering dogwood, despite being abundant with ideas or calcium in their case, none of that will come into fruition unless reviewers understand our 84% potential.
Most mothers in academia and elsewhere maybe relate. We give our all, often a small portion of our existence, yet we are only fully vindicated when others see or know for themselves the full breath and merit of our potential. Nothing in my grant will say how I wrote this while homeschooling or being a mother to four children. Nothing will shed light on all the multitasking it takes to write grants. Nothing will even highlight all the meetings, all the phone calls, all the assistance, all the sleepless nights it takes to put just one grant together. This is why I can honestly say I consider gender greatly when I review grants. For to be a mother, to put in just a fraction of your existence into any grant, is a tremendous feat alone. I’m not saying or asking for grant reviewers to be partial to mothers or women, but when the statistics shows that most successful grants are by men, flowering dogwoods should come to mind.
Of course men are successful, they can put in 84% of their best foot forward while women actually give 16%. Take a look at the graph below from a paper I usually share at the start for my grant writing course. Men remain in funding pools at rates higher than women overtime. The funding longevity for women are low, with women holding fewer grants in general, submitting fewer applications and successfully renewing grants. Let me repeat this again for emphasis, flowering dogwoods and their potential should truly come to mind here. Of course the statistics are worse for researchers of color but that’s another post for another day. Our resilience is out of this world, not only as a mother, but as a black woman in academia. I usually joke but maybe it’s isn’t a joke, but if only I had a space to go away and just write my grants, maybe a weekend getaway or sorts with no kids crying or no after school games to schedule, then every grant would get my 84% just like soils get the full calcium content of flowering dogwoods when their leaves litter.
For now, 16% will do. That’s the lesson I am keeping from flowering dogwood. To still do my part to improve the public’s health, even if all I can give is 16%. It’s for this reason I ask you to keep working mothers like flowering dogwood in mind. We can give 84% if only conditions are right. But rarely are conditions ever right, so what you see from us is only 16% of our potential. And when that 16% thrives, when you come across a working mother who makes the most out of her 16%, get out of her way and watch as she blossoms like a flowering dogwood.
I forgot to write. There was so much to do that writing wasn’t one of them. I wanted to still keep something down the moment I remembered hence my little post for now, meant for yesterday. It’s a reminder to myself that forgetting is a natural rhythm of life. It happens and will always happen. Sometimes it’s the minds way of making you think of other things that matter, other people that deserve your time and attention, four of them in my case that occupy every second of my time. Plus a genius mind that captures my soul whenever around. I forgot to write not because I didn’t have so many ideas in mind but because none of them was as significant as just being still and knowing what truly matters, my family. I forgot to write. But I didn’t forget what matters. That’s the keep for me. To keep remembering who this is for in the end, even when nothing is written down. Though I may forget to put things down, but those that matter, my family, my soul’s content, my hiding place, remain my ultimate goal, my ultimate strength, the reason for keeping everything, even moments of forgetfulness.
My daughter once told me a story. Of her and her friends and their plans to save the world from goblins, or little monsters with green skins and two horns on their head. One friend was a wizard ninja, the other a pixie fairy and my daughter a purple fizzle, also known as bubble girl with a magic bubble wand and a skateboard. Together, they were unstoppable and will do whatever they could to protect the universe. She shared the picture below to illustrate this vividly.
In listening to my daughter recount this story, I became transfixed and transported into the realm of possibilities with stories. For my daughter and her imagination, there are no limits. Even a ninja with a staff can be a wizard. A pixie can be a fairy and fly around with her human friends. A bubble girl can not only possess a magic bubble wand that erupts magical bubbles, but she can also use her skateboard and run around a rainbow colored universe with her friends. Together they work to protect the universe from goblins and their their evil plans. Her story was not only engaging, but illuminating. My daughter took me on a journey to stories endless possibilities, one where openness is the destination for abilities that are limitless. Not only did she construct a narrative to describe how anyone can become anything, her narrative is also an illustration of an important lesson that she learned about own herself, something in fact expressed in the story itself. That she too can be anything she wanted to be. An endless possibility.
Stories like what my daughter shared, illustrate how they powerfully give meaning to one’s life. But authoring your own story for yourself, recounting ever act and action, every event and expression, is the greatest gift. One that takes you on a journey towards knowing and telling, reflecting and learning. Listening and learning about each character in my daughter’s story, how they feel and what they do, opened her eyes to their see their abilities, all full of endless possibilities. The reflection, inherent in the stories we tell, is the learning about ourselves that I gleaned from my daughter and her story. As her eyes opened to their possibilities, so to did her mind open to become aware of the power of her thoughts, her feelings, her actions, all infused in her story.
That to me is the power of stories, the power of authoring your thoughts and feeling as only you know how to do best. The power to resist and overcome all forms of oppression, the power of your voice with its gifts for suppression, repression, everything wanting to cause depression. With stories, the possibilities are endless. Stories are a function of our society, an opportunity to make and remake, to form and reform, to define and redefine, how we all become one. Powerful and liberating, stories help you author aspects of you that only you know best. Stories even those as unthinkable as a wizard ninja helps you claim authority over you. The world will try to define you. The world will speak ill of you to and use words meant to destroy rather than build you. But it’s in your story that you lay claim over how the world should see you. Not from the mouth of others, but from you, your acts, your actions, one after another. Such an authority over yourself is inspiring, divine, a sterling gift to oneself.
All of us, whether as young as my 8 year old daughter or as old her grandmother, have stories to tell, have point of views and values to share that many would be willing to hear. How we author our lives through stories is the thing I never knew I had in me, the thing I never knew I would also see in others until this keeplist began a little over 9 months ago. Finding stories, keeping and nurturing them, has opened my eyes to their power and freedom. They also helped me see the endless possibilities in all my life’s abilities. So for today and always, keep stories, even from a child’s lens. Find your story too. Author it. It will help you think, act, feel, the best in you that you may not even know exists. It has helped me find my way, through a life where nothing weighs me down. I am a master of my journey because stories showed all I needed. My daughter’s story by the way is called ‘The Rainbow Universe Society.’ Like I said with stories, the possibilities are endless.
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.
What are the things you wish to change for yourself? What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What hurt, or pain, or emotions do you swallow day by day? What sickens you, even kills you, still in silence? These words from Audre Lorde’s essay on transforming silence into action are my daily source for life. I highly recommend every woman to read this transformative essay by Audre Lorde. It literally changed my life after an ugly, painful experience I faced last year. It helped me transform my silence into action. It also helped me face my fears even at the risk of being annihilated. I can gladly testify that it helped me understand fully that many people are not suppose to journey with you through life and though that may come with fears of it own when the journey ends, because of this essay, I am prepared to face my fears.
So can I be the face of your fears. Look at me. I am woman. A black woman. A black woman and a mother. A black woman, a mother, and a researcher. A black woman, a mother, a researcher, a grant writer. A black woman, a mother, a researcher, a grant writer, and a story teller. I am me, through it all, fearful or not. I am also a warrior, too, with so many scars. I am willing to do my part, to share them so you change your ways and become the warrior that you are destined to be. Can I work with you to transform your silience into language and action? It would be my greatest joy to journey with you on this journey we both find ourselves so you to find your way to breaking all the many silences you have. This sharp awareness, to the full possibilities of journeys we take, whether in fear or in light, is the keep I am sending out to the world today. Break your silence, transform them and face your fears. When your do, you will live a deeper life, one full of power and awe of the possibilities that flow within you.