Very few seats were empty at Kennesaw State’s performing arts center as the school’s gospel choir, led by Dr. Oral Moses, and Giovanni performed for the crowd. The event was sponsored by the Kennesaw State University African American Student Alliance.
Giovanni, a creative writing professor at Virginia Tech who was first published in 1968, was introduced by Kennesaw State graduate Patricia Maduakor.
“She has inspired generations of people, as well as the world,” Maduakor said. “She is a woman who is amazing beyond words and partially because I can’t even begin to articulate the words that Nikki Giovanni is.”
Giovanni, 68, was welcomed with a round of applause and entertained the audience with her stories about slaves and the friendship she developed with the woman who started the civil rights movement in 1955, the late Rosa Parks.
“She was the right person at the right time. She saw the opportunity with the bus driver had given her and when she sat down — she became the mother of the Sit In Movement without intending to or at that point realizing it,” Giovanni said.
Giovanni said Dr. King recognized Parks’ action as an opportunity to “break the back of an evil and vicious practice” that required black people to sit at the back of buses and white people to sit in the front.
“He also knew though, being a black man from Atlanta, that the chances of him seeing the Promise Land … was very limited,” Giovanni added. “(King) wasn’t going to grow old, he wasn’t going to see his grandchildren but you can’t let that stop you from doing what should be done. I want to remind people of that.”
Giovanni said she believes that a life is not good if it’s being protected.
“You have to let go and you have to do the things that you know you should do and you have to do it with a good spirit,” she said.
She described Dr. King as an incredible, compassionate man who didn’t back away from any challenge.
“When you look at the stance, all he had was the moral authority of his voice, that’s all he had. He didn’t have any guns, he didn’t have any soldiers … and I think he showed us a lot about the courage to stand up,” she said. “I do like to remind all students, black and white … the enslaved have taught us that everything is an opportunity because if you fail to look at it as an opportunity, it makes you crazy.”
She believes that the slaves built on the little they had from the time they were brought to America.
“One of the reasons we love King is that he had an opportunity and he saw it and recognized it,” she said.
“The greatness of the man that we’re celebrating today is that he is the one who said, ‘The best thing to do with your enemy is to make a friend,’” Giovanni said. “I think that was right, and we continue to believe that people are better than they are in hopes that they will one day live up to what they are.”
Giovanni closed her speech Monday afternoon by reading a poem she wrote while her mother was in the hospital nearly 10 years ago, “In the Spirit of Martin.” The poem was part of her book of poetry, Acolytes.
Following her speech she participated in a reception and book signing in the school’s student center.