I have taken plenty short trips in life. But few are as unforgettable as the past 4 days in Lagos. Imagine arriving to blue skies. No soon after we arrived, even after all the chaos we encountered at the airport, I arrived to skies perfect and blue.

I entered Lagos too with clarity. Day after day, I saw myself opening up to the wonders of this place. Opening up to the young people nurturing its greatest hope. We came for them. Came to witness all they could offer for themselves and those like them. We called it PrEP4Youth. They called it life changing. And one by one I saw as young people came up with ideas of how to care for each other. Ideas for girls without hope and boys out of hope. I saw how they told stories of themselves, told stories of their peers and dreamed of ways they could all live in a land where the skies remained perfect and blue. I kept saying nothing about you without you. They kept showing nothing for them without them. For where they come from, their is no need to ignore them, no need to divide them into those that receive or complete, no need to act as if they cannot lead things for themselves. The past four days left moments of joy, from teams exceptional and finesse, from youths thinking outside the box, in red shirts, or green shirts, braided hair, or faded cuts, Godswill, or rising up again. I saw all this and more with fullness for tomorrow. Nothing about young people without young people. Nothing about people without people. This is the change they want.

If you want to decolonize anything, start by stepping out of the way. Then proceed with this mantra, ‘it is not about you.’ Nothing for people, communities, health systems, anyone, without them. Some may write papers on this, some may even have stories to tell. I saw first hand in Lagos, the need to step out of the way, so people themselves tell their own stories. This is why I firmly believe and will continue to do my best to ensure that we are all storytellers. No degree or peer-reviewed journals required. Just come as you are. I am on a mission to build platforms for storytellers in health who dare to dream.

I have been thinking lately about the future. Reimagining the possibilities on one’s own terms. I imagine that our minds and gaze in opposition, are liberated and transformed for greatness. Our desires, agency and voice disrupts any fixation to hold us down to any preconceived notion of what it means to excel. Language is at the heart of this disruption. One that allows us all to soar on wings like eagle, to trouble the water, knowing fully well that a world is waiting for us to rise. And we will. To exhale, we no longer wait or ask for your permission. To lead, we no longer fear whether you follow or not. To speak, we not only stay at the margins but move to the center and vice versa. That the future belongs to those who dare dream keeps my alert. That and the role young people themselves will play, for the future, afterall belongs to them.

For the past three years I have been co-leading a program known as 4 youth by youth, where young people can work not only as beneficiary or partners with researchers but also leaders with a voice in their own health care. We have organized contests, engaged close to 5,500 youth, all with the goal to foster their own unique abilities to reimagine health in ways that make sense to them. At the end of one of our innovation bootcamps, we awarded and gave three finalists an opportunity to move on to a pilot-testing phase, where they were tasked with working to implement their ideas in real-world settings. The top three teams were stellar, but it’s the team that came in 4th (the group in green in the picture below) that this keep focuses on.

Almost all the finalists were students or those with keen interest in public health. The 4th team were as well but daring. They were made up of Engineers and computer studies, with a keen interest in moving health for young people beyond the typical boundaries. Their assets meant that they were forever tinkering with new ideas, new ways of thinking about health, not just for young people, but all people in general. Enter the annual Oxfam Challenge. Just when you think your hands are full, these young people, the 4th team, dared to dream for something bigger. The rose to the occasion and pitched yet another new idea focused on improving the state of health care in Nigeria using data-driven mechanisms. Not only are they now working to empower frontline healthcare workers, but they also seek to deliver health care services and resources to patients themselves.

When I saw the image of my 4th place team, now in a first place position, all that came to mind is that the future is sterling, if only we let our young grow. The future belongs to them, if only we let them succeed. The future belongs to them, if only we raise and nurture their potentials. The future belongs to them, if only we uplift and celebrate them. The future belongs to them, if only we let them be. Our 4th place team, now in 1st place is striving towards greatness with the Oxfam innovation challenge. Their resilience, their achievement and contribution to health is worthy of praises. We still have work to do for our future. But keep young people in mind. The future belongs to them, if only we let them lead.