Nikki Giovanni provokes thoughts, laughter at UF's MLK Celebration

January 21, 2016
Claire Campbell

The Reitz Union Grand Ballroom boasted a capacity crowd Jan. 19 as award-winning poet, author and civil rights activist Nikki Giovanni urged listeners to follow the lead of those who came before them and not back down.

Giovanni, 72, shared her experiences from the Civil Rights era, touching on her relationships with Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Speaking candidly about the history of slavery, she said some good had to come of it. At the very least, people learned to find comfort during a terrible time.

She elicited laughter with her blunt honesty and quick wit. When asked what she would claim as her legacy during a question-and-answer session, Giovanni spoke about her cooking.

"If you were to ask me about legacy, that would probably be it," she said. "I'm a good cook."

She recited a poem she wrote in honor of King as her closing.

Kassidy Wallace, a second-year double major in African-American studies and visual art studies, called Giovanni "the voice of a generation."

Tianna Dowie-Chin, secretary of the Black Graduate Student Organization, said she was glad UF invited Giovanni to be the event’s keynote speaker.

"She was more than we expected," Dowie-Chin said. "She’s definitely one of the legends in my mind."

The MLK Celebration, sponsored the Black Graduate Student Organization, Black Student Union, African American Studies Program, and Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, also featured the UF Gospel Choir, Black on Black Rhyme, a dance performance by the African Student Union and Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Rudy Currence.

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