Bicycles – trust and balance

Photo credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Giovanni at 71

Nikki Giovanni – the diminutive lady with the powerful, uncensored words – shared poignant stories of history and activism through humor and poetry.

“At 71, I say what I need to say,” said Giovanni. And, she said a lot.

On a humorous note, Giovanni asked the audience if they knew that rats and prairie dogs had a town in the plains before people. “That was before white people came and kicked them out, like they did us.”

More than 750 people attended as Giovanni delivered the annual MLK Lecture at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is currently a professor at Virginia Tech, where she was named the university distinguished professor and is a proud graduate of Fisk University.

Giovanni, a product of the famous 1960s Black Arts Movement, is one of the most distinguished and widely-read African-American poets, authors and essayists, and she continues her fight for civil rights and equality.

Her first book, “Black Feeling Black Talk,” was followed by a second book within a year and launched her career as a writer. All but one of her 20 books remains in print, including her 2003 releases, “The Collected Poems of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1998” and “The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni.”

Her children’s picture book, “Rosa,” about civil rights legend Rosa Parks, became a Caldecott Honors Book and also reached number three on The New York Times bestseller list. Shortly after its release, “Bicycles: Love Poems,” reached number one on for Poetry.

Giovanni read from her books, “Bicycles: Love Poems” and “Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid.” Her poetry honored some American heroes, including Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.

One poem was “In the Spirit of Martin,” which invoked memories of an easier time, a time of violence and then a call to continue to improve America.

“This is a sacred poem…blood has been shed to consecrate it…
wash your hands…remove your shoes…bow your head
…I…I…I Have a Dream

That was a magical time…Hi Ho Silver Away…
Oh Cisco/Oh Pancho…Here I Come To Save The Day…
I want the World to see what they did to my boy…
No No No I’m not going to move…If we are Wrong…
then the Constitution of the United States is Wrong
…Montgomery…Birmingham…Selma…Four little Girls…

This is a Letter from Birmingham City Jail…
This is a eulogy for Albany…This is a water hose for Anniston…
This is a Thank You to Diane Nash…
This is a flag for James Farmer…
This is a HowCanIMakeItWithoutYou to Ella Baker…
This is for the red clay of Georgia that yielded black men of courage…
black men of vision…black men of hope…
bent over cotton…or sweet potatoes…or pool tables and
baseball diamonds…playing for a chance to live free and
breathe easy and have enough money to take care of
the folks they love…This is Why We Can’t Wait …

After reading, Giovanni said that African Americans helped make America what it is, and at some point “you want someone to say thank you” as the audience chimed in to help her complete the sentence. It was her call to action.

Sharing a myriad of topics from writing with her dog nearby, to cooking in a friendly competition with Maya Angelou, to traveling with her Aunt Agnes, Giovanni touched on why she chose to use bicycles in the title of her book, “Bicycles: Love Poems.”

“This book is about trust and balance, as is life. Riding a bike requires both, without either you can’t ride,” she said. “I live in my head – thinking about what’s new, what’s next. I am a good cook, and I never cook anything the same way. Poets are inconsistent, and, like bikes, trust and love are the wheels we balance our lives on.”

During her interviews and lecture while in Kansas City, Giovanni said the movie, “Selma,” was one of the best movies of all time. “It is a wonderful film about a great history and a great man. It’s a part of African American history we all need to know, including our kids.”

Giovanni said that while race in America has come a long way, she wants Americans to continue to work together to improve race relations, to ensure equality and to be inclusive of all people and cultures. Through laughter and, often shocking statements, she encouraged humans to be better.

“Humans have good ideas and have made progress,” said Giovanni. “We just need to go further to make it better.”

|Wandra Brooks Green, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

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