Nikki Giovanni characterizes herself as “a black American, a daughter, a mother, a professor of English.”
The Lehigh University Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Planning Committee recently announced that world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni will give this year’s keynote address during the university’s celebration of the life and legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
Her talk at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21 in Baker Auditorium will be the highlight of a week of events centered on the theme of “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution.” The talk is free and open to the public.
The theme was inspired by a sermon delivered by King at the National Cathedral, just days before he died from an assassin’s bullet in April 1968. It was in that speech that King offered one of his more famous quotes on leadership: "Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.'”
“The committee felt that the sentiments King expressed in this sermon were quite apropos given this particular moment in our nation's history,” says Yaba Blay, director of Lehigh’s joint multicultural program and faculty member in Africana studies and women's studies, who co-chairs this year’s MLK committee with Ayanna Wilcher, assistant director of multicultural programming for career services.
“We actually decided upon the thematic statement prior to the presidential decision,” Blay adds. “We felt that regardless of the outcome, whatever would follow would indeed constitute ‘a great revolution.’ And now, even as we have elected this country's first African American president, we, like Dr. King, want to encourage the campus community that the struggle for a better nation, for a better community, is not over -- we must remain awake.”
Fellow MLK committee member John McKnight, director of the office of multicultural affairs
, says this year’s celebration holds particular meaning for him.
“Within the span of one week, we are able to reflect on the life of an incredible visionary from our past and to join together in celebration of the future under the leadership of another truly inspiring black man,” McKnight says.
More information about the MLK Jr. celebration can be found here.
The series of events will begin with a memorial convocation at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19 in Packer Chapel that will feature acclaimed actor, King portrayer and speaker Jim Lucas, who will perform “Reflections,” a collection of dramatic renditions of Dr. King’s speeches. That event will also include the presentation of several MLK Jr. Awards for Dedication and Commitment to Service, which will be presented to members of the Lehigh community and beyond who have distinguished themselves through service to King’s ideals.
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20 in the Great Hall of Lamberton, members of the Lehigh community will gather to witness history in the making through the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States. Many other inaugural events will also be broadcast in various campus locations throughout the day.
A step show on Friday, Jan. 23, will feature local student and campus groups and the internally recognized performance troupe, Step Afrika.
A faculty research summit and poster board presentations from noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21 in the University Center will honor members of the Lehigh faculty whose academic work and research connects to King’s vision for racial and social justice.
The annual MLK Interfaith Breakfast will be held at 8:30 a.m. in the Asa Packer Dining Room on Thursday, Jan. 22, continuing the celebration’s overarching theme of “Remaining Awake.” The breakfast will include a unity celebration of several faiths through readings, prayers and songs.
The week’s events will conclude with a step show and competition titled “Wake Up! Step Up!” Local student groups will join with Lehigh competitors and the internationally recognized performance troupe, Step Afrika, in a step dance-off. Step Afrika is the first professional company dedicated to stepping, an art form that began in African American fraternities.
Other events include an MLK Youth Program that will be offered by Lehigh’s community service office and will take place every afternoon of the weeklong celebration.
In addition to Blay and Wilcher, this year’s MLK Planning Committee includes John McKnight, director of multicultural affairs; Charles Choice, president of the university’s Black Student Union; Chris Diggs, assistant director of career services; Rita Jones, director of the women's center; Matt Kitchie, director of student activities; Judy Lasker, department chair and professor of sociology and anthropology; K. Sivakumar, professor of marketing; Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion studies and university chaplain; Seth Goren, director of the Hillel Society; and Carolina Hernandez, director of community service.
The “Princess of Black Poetry”
One of the most widely read American poets, Giovanni’s work has earned her a reputation for candor and determination in the pursuit of civil rights and equality. A recurring theme in her work is the power of one individual to make a dramatic difference in the lives of others.
Her first book of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk
, debuted to early critical acclaim, leading some to call her the “Princess of Black Poetry.” Over the course of the last four decades of publishing and lecturing, Giovanni has been recognized for her enormous cultural contributions to the world of literature and to society.
Her numerous awards and honors include: a National Book Award finalist for her autobiography, Gemini
; NAACP Image Awards for her books, Blues: For All the Changes
and Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea
; and a Caldecott Honors Award for her best-selling children’s picture book, Rosa
, about civil rights legend Rosa Parks.
She is also the recipient of some 25 honorary degrees and holds the keys to more than two dozen cities, has been named Woman of the Year by Mademoiselle magazine, The Ladies Home Journal, and Ebony magazine.
Since 1987, she has taught writing and literature at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor.
To nominate a deserving individual for one of the Martin Luther King Jr. Awards that will be distributed during the convocation, please click on the nomination form link on the MLK Web site.
-- Linda Harbrecht