Nikki Giovanni to speak at Wednesday MLK event

Nikki Giovanni, world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator, will be the keynote speaker for Western Carolina University’s annual celebration in honor of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Giovanni, who has been called the “Princess of Black Poetry,” will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, in the Grandroom of A.K. Hinds University Center. The address and most King celebration events at WCU are free and open to the public.

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni

A University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Giovanni grew up in an all-black suburb of Cincinnati, and spent summers with her grandparents in Knoxville, Tenn. Her first book of poetry, called “Black Feeling Black Talk,” was published in 1968 and launched her prolific writing career. Her later publications include “Gemini,” an autobiography that was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Her awards and honors include receiving the Langston Hughes Medal for poetry and being named the first recipient of the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award as well as one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “Living Legends.”

The Inspirational Choir will perform two selections at the event, and Truthwriters, WCU’s spoken word group, will present a poem.

Other events planned at WCU as part of the King celebration, which is themed “Stepping into the Future. Honoring the Vision,” range from a re-enactment of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to two days of service.

“It’s not just about recognizing the fact that a man dared to lead a nation of people out of oppression like a modern-day Moses and lost his life in doing so,” said RaKim Lash, a senior from Greensboro majoring in political science and a member of WCU’s MLK Jr. celebration planning committee. “It’s about how his dream has affected and shaped America today. It’s about reminding Americans that a simple dream can re-imagine reality.”

On Monday, Jan. 21, and Saturday, Jan. 26, a range of service activities will take place at varying locations from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The events are coordinated by WCU’s Center for Service Learning.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.

At 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 21, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity will host a unity march on campus followed by a birthday party for King at Illusions in the University Center.

“Dr. King’s stand was rooted in the belief of equality for all,” said Lash on behalf of the Nu Zeta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. “Clearly we can look at our present-day society and see that we still have some work to do. Some may stand for gay rights, gender equality in the workforce or environmental safety. In your stance for these social justice issues, come and march with us.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 22, King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech will be played from the University Center balcony at 12:30 p.m. At 6 p.m., Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority will host its annual open mic night in Illusions as part of the King celebration.On Thursday, Jan. 24, a discussion about race will be hosted from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Cardinal Room of the University Center. Seating is limited, and attendees are encouraged to register through the Department of Intercultural Affairs.

Savion Glover

Savion Glover

The discussion will be followed at 7:30 p.m. with a performance by tap dancer, choreographer and actor Savion Glover, who will present his show “SoLe Sanctuary” at the Bardo Arts Center. The show is part of the Arts and Cultural Events Performance Series at WCU.

A performer since childhood, Glover has developed a dance style he calls “free-style hard-core.” His choreography for the 1996 musical “Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk” earned him a Tony Award for best choreographer. Glover’s show displays his reverence for the art of tap and the craft he has mastered, with his performance described in The New York Times as “barebones and pure, full of the kind of rhythmic innovation that trips down one path, splinters off in different directions and then sweeps back home.”

Tickets for “SoLe Sanctuary” are $10 for students and $15 for all others and are available by calling 828-227-2479 or visiting

For more information about the celebration, contact James Felton, director of intercultural affairs, at or 828-227-2276.