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Why public health needs a burst of light

Scientific writing, it seems, bears no light. It neither disrupts nor challenges darkness. It often curtails imagination and creativity. It denigrates writing that expose, move against, or cross boundaries. Ultimately, it fails to see and surmise a longing often revealed in privacy—that our tools are colonized. Nothing we write can help us be free from mastering dominant Eurocentric values, often implied as the right values for everyone. This includes individual manuscripts and their subsections, implied as favorable for comprehension and a legitimate format to express and co-create knowledge. Many scientific scholars are inclined to be persuaded by these values. Others remain silent. However, from time to time, voices of doubt will emerge insisting also to be heard, insisting that our thinking includes the humanity of the people we serve or the formation of community. For many scholars like me, that time is now. When you encourage contributions from scholars from marginalized racial and ethnic groups, be prepared for the uneasiness ahead. 

Scientific publications have been brimming with a void for a long time. It cannot be erased with a singular or multiple call for papers, an idea whose time has come and gone. It also cannot be moved by a request for ideas to tackle racism and inequity in health, another idea gone in the histories of so many requests to do the impossible by researchers alone. When the voices of people systematically excluded from publishing in scientific journals have been ignored, trivialized, dismissed, or buried, then be prepared not only with redressing power imbalance but to first not see anyone as voiceless or powerless. Racial and ethnic groups maybe marginalized from scientific writing, but they have voice. They also have power that can deepen understanding of and strengthening our ability to advance discourse, dialogue, and action to promote health equity. We have been inspiring and galvanizing a movement towards justice in scientific writing, opening ourselves to our creative powers, as we embrace other forms and styles of writing as acts of liberation. We know that our livelihoods depend on the people we serve, the people that look like me, and the people who have been looking out for me all along. We have no words if not for theirs. The question then is not whether to include voices of people experiencing health inequities or to celebrate their stories of success but rather how particular people resolved these issues at specific times, even via a burst of light. It is for them that we share the following: 

Why public health needs a burst of light

We have spent eons,

speaking ill of the public.

Dragging shadows,

across people and places

Publishing like maniacs 

constantly under attack

Writing things that offer little hope 

Not even an open-eyed assessment

Of starry skies or full moons

That have never failed to light

Even in the absence of stars

The plight of the public

every single night. 

We devise missions

That are neither life-affirming

Nor genuine with learning 

And fails to offer anything close to hope.

Not in 3000 words 

Or in our editorials or forewords.

Not in the spaces we save for debate 

Nor with aims we claim to narrate 

Nothing in what we translate

Ultimately helps the public to create 

the radical healing it deserves to formulate. 

Like withered leaves, their hope in us 

Slowly begins to dissipate.

We hopelessly wander around, 

Chasing winds still out of scope

For impact factors and their appeal

On the many ways the public is defective

Full of disparities or deficits 

Never full of assets or infinite depths

We know the public has in its defense

This privilege serves only our mandate

No matter how much we berate 

That our regressed data correlates 

Even, the public knows, it doesn’t. 

Like people still with no hope,

We continue to speak ill at will

While the public remains mute

As knowledge piles high 

like grains in a chicken’s coop

This knowledge is used

As pursuits that deplete

Pursuits that deceive, 

Pursuits that dispute

All we know the public can truly execute. 

Even chickens fare way better 

than the public, in their coop.

If we are writing or speaking in a style that now seems different, 

It’s because the public needs us to urgently be different

The public needs us to put them back into the business of health

Not corporations or open sources 

Now in the business of defining what we publish at a cost

And not with language or style 

That continues to oppress the very public we claim to serve.

We approach this now, with intensity for the public.

To tell their stories, so their real world becomes real

Not as methods, or results or discussions in disguise

But to keep the promise we made to mobilize

Every resource that neither randomize

Nor summarizes their lives, 

As only data worthy to theorize

For when we seek approvals, they approve.

When we speak of their lives with our data, they speak as well. 

Even when we act, they act to heal their lives.

They do so, knowing we belong to them.

And will not keep mum, 

Despite their education or income

Yet our papers or presentations

Never live up to the promises we made when we began.

I imagine the time has come for a “burst of light” with public health. 

Audre Lorde described this “burst of light” as an inescapable knowledge. 

It is metabolized and integrated into the fabric of the public’s being 

Sustained and empowered by the public too

Who lend their strength and insight back to the public

For the battle to uncover the light within the public.

Like clear moonlight that disturb the stillness of the night

Is a fight we are prepared to do with all our might.

This is an urgent task we take, 

To demand, that we all put the public first 

A task we recognize that must be articulated and answered

For as long as we remain in the service of the public’s health.

We are in pursuit of an inescapable knowledge, 

A burst of light with knowledge that humanizes the public

Knowledge that uses language to uplift the public 

Knowledge that uses tools to unite the public

Knowledge that uses mediums that are urgent for the public

Knowledge that last in communion with the public.

For the public can no longer wait for us to uncover its possibilities 

Uncover this inescapable knowledge within its worldview

It’s a renaissance so long overdue

Our goal, to help the public achieve its breakthrough

We call this a burst of light

We use LIGHT to announce our debut. 

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