by Lindsay Field
firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Marietta Daily Journal
01.17.12 - 01:17 am
KENNESAW — World-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni spoke at Kennesaw State University on Monday during its celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Very few seats were empty at Kennesaw State’s performing arts center as the school’s gospel choir, led by Dr. Oral Moses, and Giovanni performed for the crowd. The event was sponsored by the Kennesaw State University African American Student Alliance.
Giovanni, a creative writing professor at Virginia Tech who was first published in 1968, was introduced by Kennesaw State graduate Patricia Maduakor.
“She has inspired generations of people, as well as the world,” Maduakor said. “She is a woman who is amazing beyond words and partially because I can’t even begin to articulate the words that Nikki Giovanni is.”
Giovanni, 68, was welcomed with a round of applause and entertained the audience with her stories about slaves and the friendship she developed with the woman who started the civil rights movement in 1955, the late Rosa Parks.
“She was the right person at the right time. She saw the opportunity with the bus driver had given her and when she sat down — she became the mother of the Sit In Movement without intending to or at that point realizing it,” Giovanni said.
Giovanni said Dr. King recognized Parks’ action as an opportunity to “break the back of an evil and vicious practice” that required black people to sit at the back of buses and white people to sit in the front.
“He also knew though, being a black man from Atlanta, that the chances of him seeing the Promise Land … was very limited,” Giovanni added. “(King) wasn’t going to grow old, he wasn’t going to see his grandchildren but you can’t let that stop you from doing what should be done. I want to remind people of that.”
Giovanni said she believes that a life is not good if it’s being protected.
“You have to let go and you have to do the things that you know you should do and you have to do it with a good spirit,” she said.
She described Dr. King as an incredible, compassionate man who didn’t back away from any challenge.
“When you look at the stance, all he had was the moral authority of his voice, that’s all he had. He didn’t have any guns, he didn’t have any soldiers … and I think he showed us a lot about the courage to stand up,” she said. “I do like to remind all students, black and white … the enslaved have taught us that everything is an opportunity because if you fail to look at it as an opportunity, it makes you crazy.”
She believes that the slaves built on the little they had from the time they were brought to America.
“One of the reasons we love King is that he had an opportunity and he saw it and recognized it,” she said.
“The greatness of the man that we’re celebrating today is that he is the one who said, ‘The best thing to do with your enemy is to make a friend,’” Giovanni said. “I think that was right, and we continue to believe that people are better than they are in hopes that they will one day live up to what they are.”
Giovanni closed her speech Monday afternoon by reading a poem she wrote while her mother was in the hospital nearly 10 years ago, “In the Spirit of Martin.” The poem was part of her book of poetry, Acolytes.
Speeches by a poet in Kennesaw and a Georgia Supreme Court Justice in Sandy Springs and parades in Stone Mountain and in the namesake's Auburn Avenue neighborhood were among the ways the2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday was observed in metro Atlanta Monday.
Poet Nikki Giovanni headlined the celebration at Kennesaw State University's annual MLK event while justice Harold D. Melton gave the keynote address at Sandy Springs' City Hall. Volunteers worked on a variety of community service projects sponsored by Hands on Atlanta as residents turned out in a variety of ways to commemorate the holiday.
As great as the music, speeches and spirit were Monday morning at Ebenezer Baptist Church for the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance, there was a also a great sense of symmetry.
In the 44th year after King’s death, speaker after speaker – most of whom lean Democrat -- stumped for four more years for the country’s 44th president, Barack Obama.
“For the first time in the history of America, the most important person of color does not throw a ball, catch a ball, act, sing or dance,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, encouraging the audience to go out and register to vote. “When we leave here today, lets do our work, lets develop a plan, and lets not get tired. And we will indeed, change the world.”
Some 11 months away from what promises to be a tough re-election bid for Obama, who is facing sharp attacks from the right and growing concerns from the left, speakers on Monday focused on re-energizing the base.
The speakers reminded the crowd – the overflow of which listened to the service at the original church that King co-pastored for eight years – to not get complacent now that Obama is in the White House. They said it is time to stop just living on the legacy of King’s Dream, which has lulled so many and taken the focus off of his accomplishments.
“You don’t get killed for dreaming. You don’t get harassed by the FBI for dreaming,” said keynote speaker The Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III from Friendship -- West Baptist Church in Dallas. “What made him dangerous is that Dr. King fought until public policy was changed. He agitated. Don’t say you in love with Dr. King if you stick with his dream and don’t wake up and push for public policy. Dr. King fought to change public policy.”
More than 2,000 attended the annual service, held in Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Horizon Sanctuary. Included among the speakers were Gov. Nathan Deal, and fellow Republican Senator Johnny Isakson.
Isackson called the King Memorial, which he has visited three times, "a beautiful tribute to a great man." He said the monument's placement between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials is apporpriate because Kings words also shaped this country.
Deal told the audience to follow Kings example of service to others to address the work he left behind. "Too many live in a dark word of illiteracy, addiciton, poverty and crime, Deal said.
King’s sister Christine King Farris and daughter, Bernice King, presided over the three-hour event.
King, who won the Nobel Peace Prize and is first United States citizen to have a national holiday in his name, would have been 83 this year. He was born and raised in Atlanta, and many of the King Day events are centered in the King Historic District in the Auburn Avenue area.
Outside of the churches, as hundreds milled around waiting for a march to start, vendors sold t-shirts, King/Obama scrolls and plump turkey legs. Dozens of volunteers, organized by the People’s Agenda, registered people to vote, even providing access to photo ID voter identification.
“This was very inspirational. Very motivational,” said Ron Carson, who brought eight youth from a church in Dublin, Ga. “Anyone who listened to what was said today had to be inspired to want to continue the legacy of the dream. It was hard to overlook that.”