Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing Nikki Giovanni speak in person. If you’re not familiar, Nikki Giovanni is a global treasure. She is one of the most applauded poets living. Also an activist, commentator and more. Her poetry speaks to and for people of all kinds, but especially black women – and we are proud to have her voice.
The event was free to attend thanks to the Houston Public Library. I went with one of my best friends and we were both truly impacted by the experience. Here are some of my favorite quotes and takeaways from the inspiring lecture event.
- Black people, no matter what we have been through, have always found joy. Ms. Giovannini reminded the mostly black audience of this truth in light of the current social climate. She said pointedly “We will get through Trump. We have been through worse”. If our ancestors of the Middle Passage could survive that she told us, in relation to those trials, we don’t have anything to complain about.
Personally, I believe that there are several social issues that need resolutions. I didn’t take her comparison as a diminishing of current issues, but more of a charge to act instead of simply complain. Giovanni was active in the SNCC and Black Arts Movement, so action is not a foreign concept to her.
- She said at her age, 74, people ask her a lot what to tell young people. To that she offered three things. 1) Think about space – Nikki told the audience that she’s a “space freak” and pays close attention to advancements being made in space travel and the like. The future is headed there, in her opinion, and she wants everyone to be included so she encouraged the audience to encourage our children to think about space, technology, and science. 2) Don’t smoke – Mostly a practical addition to the first point. Ms. Giovanni said that smoking would compromise the functioning of your lungs, limiting your ability to travel to and return from space. Pretty solid thinking ahead. 3) Write your own story – Nikki encouraged us all to create and define our own truths, and then to share them. Coming from her, someone who has made that very idea their life’s work, it was a moving call to action.
- Vote. Ms. Giovanni told us “As long as I’m living, I will vote” telling us her reason for doing so was because of what Fannie Lou Hammer went through. Hamer, an iconinc Civil Rights Movement leader was fired, forced to move, threatened, arrested, beaten and shot at for registering to vote, leading voting drives and furthering racial equality. While Nikki Giovanni made it clear she was severly dissapointed, if not disgusted by, the current leadership of our country she was careful to remind us not to check out of the political process. Only more involvement would help to bring solutions.
- Nikki Giovanni emphasized the importance of libraries. Given that we were attending an event hosted by the Houston Public Librabry, we heard awesome things about services and programs HPL offers. I also learned how the HPL system had helped so many people after Hurricane Harvey, sending laptops to shelters so that those thee could stay connected – AND acting as a safe space for the children of city workers who had no childcare directly following the storm. Ms. Giovanni told us of the librarian who meant so much to her growing up. When she was a child, libraries in her area were segregated. She’d ask her librarian for books that were not at the black library. Her librarian would tell her to come back in a day or two and she would have the book she’d requested. Her librarian would personally travel to the segregated white library in town, probably enduring ridicule and disrespect. Giovanni never knew all that her librarian had to go through to get those books, until she learned the truth as an adult. It was touching, especially since it impacted a woman who would impact so many others. It truly shows the power f books, particularly when shared with children.
- She also told us to try to remember to be Black, a sentiment that speaks to current society. You would not think, in 2018, that Black people need a reminder – or permission – to be themselves. In truth, such a reminder is needed daily. Often we are told, in so many ways, to attempt to be everything but Black. As if there is something inherently wrong with ourselves. Nikki Giovanni in all her glory is a visible reminder that despite negative untruths to the contrary Black is limitless, powerful, moving and inherently good. She talked about the genius of Marvin Gaye and how his music is still the soundtrack of today. As a music lover, and devotee of music research, I could no help but verbally concur from my seat in the audience. “Someone should make What’s Going On a musical,” she exclaimed. Of course it’s a brilliant idea that got the crowd excited. After a night in her presence, I could not help but think the same of Nikki Giovanni’s life.
The highlight of the night was when, during the interview portion, Houston Chron reporter Cindy George asked Giovanni to recite her famous poem Ego Tripping, which was for me one of the night’s highlights since it is one of my favorite poems. It was a pleasure to attend and to have Nikki Giovanni autograph the books I purchased for myself and my sons thanks to Brazos Bookstore being on site at the event. Nikki Giovanni, like the evening, was delightful.