Poet Nikki Giovanni tells students to ‘get a passport’


Ebony Calloway/The Daily Northwestern

Poet Nikki Giovanni speaks Thursday night at Cahn Auditorium. Giovanni, the speaker at For Members Only’s annual State of the Black Union event, discussed the importance of remembering history.

Jeanne Kuang, Assistant Campus Editor

Writer and activist Nikki Giovanni brought advice and humor to campus Thursday night when she spoke at For Members Only’s annual State of the Black Union.

More than 170 people attended the event, which was hosted by Northwestern’s black student interest group in Cahn Auditorium. Giovanni, a poet and English professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, first gained fame in the 1960s for writing about the Civil Rights Movement.

Giovanni spoke of civil rights activism, read poems from her new book “Chasing Utopia” and dispensed advice to students about taking control of their lives.

“We need movement out of you youngsters,” she said. “You have to do something. This is what your birthright is. You are college graduates, so we look for you to lead. We look for you to think of where we’re going in the future.”

FMO coordinator April McFadden and Sarah Carthen Watson, vice coordinator of programming, said they wanted to bring a strong female speaker to this year’s State of the Black Union, an event intended to address issues facing the black community. Giovanni stood out because of her status as both a well-regarded poet and an activist.

“She is a multifaceted person,” said McFadden, a Medill junior. “The things she talked about, her history and her knowledge, it was extensive. It was enough to address the black community in what we needed to hear.”

During her speech, Giovanni touched on her recent trip to Ghana, urging students in the audience to be ready to see the world, rather than being afraid to take chances.

“Jobs are good but dreams are more important,” she said. “You gotta get a passport and you gotta travel. … You have to go not because you’re comfortable, but because you’re uncomfortable.”

The writer also emphasized the importance of valuing life, having relationships with one’s peers and remembering the history of social activism such as the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout her speech, she drew laughter from the audience with jokes about current events and murmurs of approval with criticism of media portrayals of African Americans.

“Black people deserve a good and a loyal treatment of our history,” Giovanni said. “We have a great history.”

Carthen Watson, a SESP junior, said she appreciated Giovanni’s wisdom and candor.

“She connected with people on a more personal level than, ‘Let me lecture you,’” Carthen Watson said. “She was able to offer a lot of motivation, a lot of inspiration.”

SESP sophomore Alexandria Bobbitt said the event left her “speechless.”

“We’ve been given everything but we’ve lost a lot of our fire, and she still has that,” Bobbitt said. “Her point of ‘Get a passport, always be ready’ — I think I’m just about to write that on my wall.”

McFadden said Giovanni addressed a young audience in a motivating manner.

“She thinks we still should be making noise and fighting for things,” McFadden said. “She made it important to tell us that.”

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