by Rachel Stallings, BU English Major
Poet, activist, author, and professor, Nikki Giovanni, addressed a full house on Monday, September 24, with an engaging and heartfelt Humanities Symposium presentation. Students filled the room of JAAC 4094, with many having to sit around the walls of the room, packed in to listen. She covered everything from her own personal life (followed by a flawless reading of her poem, “Tennessean By Birth”) to her desire for people to learn to love themselves, to her disdain for the story of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (it encourages kids to bully each other!), to a final charge for those in the room to accept one another and end the hate that fuels racism.
Giovanni captured the audience with her lively presence and fluid approach to storytelling. She is a wonderful speaker and her readings of her poems flowed so naturally between personal stories that it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between her natural spoken rhythm and her poetry. She approached each topic with a no-nonsense attitude, covering issues of environmental impact, racism, sexism, and rape, and even took strong political stands against many of the politicians currently in office. Despite the seriousness of her subject matter, her wit and sense of humor brought lots of laughter to the crowd and she even joked that she “wouldn’t get invited back” to speak after all of her strong political statements.
She made it a point to remind those in the audience to take care of themselves, telling the crowd that making mistakes is just a part of life and we ought to have more grace with ourselves. One example she gave was of weeds; they’re often seen as a nuisance, but in reality, they are something many people just “haven’t figured out what to do with yet.” She encouraged those in the crowd to never consider themselves as less than others because they don’t see themselves as a flower, but instead find a way to use their individual strengths to be the best version of themselves they could be.
After her animated and high energy presentation, she fielded a few questions from the audience. One student asked how Giovanni might respond to someone who disagrees with or feels victimized by her strong political views, and she encouraged the student to open up her perspective and understand that all of us are part of one another, we’re all connected in some way. She kindly explained that we must learn to love and accept people if we hope to end all of the hate in the world, which was a fitting end to her presentation.
Image credit: Sam Simpkins, University Photographer