By Brittany Nassef
On Wednesday, Jan. 22, UMW welcomed renowned, award-winning poet, orator, and award winner, Nikki Giovanni, in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Krystal Jackson, a senior, who had the privilege of introducing Giovanni for her tribute speech said that Giovanni was not only “One of the world’s greatest social civil rights leaders,” but that she also helped start a “revolution that forged a distinguished pathway,” for the civil rights movement.
“Nikki Giovanni is perhaps one of the few people I know in my life that can stand up in front of an entire audience and simply captivate every single person and make it seem effortless,” junior Charles Reed, Jr said.
Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and attended Fisk University and the University of Pennsylvania at Columbia. She graduated from both with honors. Giovanni currently teaches at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor of English.
In the past three decades, Giovanni has written over 30 books, including an autobiography “Gemini.” She has been awarded several prestigious awards including Woman of the Year by Mademoiselle Magzine, The Ladies Home Journal, and Ebony Magazine. She is also the first person to ever receive the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage award.
Giovanni’s visit to UMW is just one of many other colleges and institutions she will be visiting in the coming weeks.
“Embracing diversity is the only way to become the individual we desire to be,” Giovanni said.
“Behind every great man is a great woman,” Giovanni said. “Behind King were three great women—his mother, Alberta Williams, his wife, Coretta Scott, and Rosa L. Parks.”
Although she was here to commemorate the birthday of King, Giovanni also devoted time to Rosa Parks.
Giovanni told Parks’ story and explained how such a simple action, like that of Parks remaining in her seat located in the neutral section, led to the civil rights movement.
“I’m 66,” Giovanni said. “I grew up in the age of segregation.”
Giovanni said that Parks knew as well as anyone that the laws of segregation were to be followed and she had no intention to break those laws. However, James Tate and the police had a different view and arrested Parks for maintaining her seat in the neutral section.
The outrage sparked by this event led to the rising up of other members in the community across the nation. Many people joined in the civil rights movement to make equality a possibility today.
The stories told in the tribute speech were stories of struggle and stories of success.
Not only did King, Parks, and Giovanni stand up for the rights of racial equality, but also for gender equality.