Editor’s Note: This article contains mentions of suicide.
On the 30th Anniversary of Andover’s first observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, guest speaker Nikki Giovanni addressed the student body at All-School Meeting (ASM). Giovanni is a poet, writer, activist, and commentator, whose early work was largely influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement.
Springer worked with the Community and Multicultural Department (CAMD) team to bring Giovanni to campus. The team aimed to bring an individual who would speak on relevant issues surrounding the themes of MLK Day.
“The prevailing narrative around civil rights often forgets the womyn [sic] of the movement. Nikki Giovanni is a national treasure whose poetry and voice has oft times been a mirror for our nation and a balm for our souls. That was made clear to me during her talk. She has a way of telling stories, painting a picture, weaving words together that make you laugh but also challenge your assumptions and ask you to stop, think, then act,” wrote Springer in an email to The Phillipian.
In Springer’s introduction of Giovanni at ASM, she reflected on modern-day issues around the world. She also prompted the audience to consider their roles in addressing these problems as a way of continuing the legacy of King.
“We’ve seen series of bonfires across Australia, threats of war followed by intense missile strikes, rashes of anti-Semitic attacks, members of the House voting to impeach the president, and so much more…When the world is on fire, we need to listen, and that’s what King so poignantly taught us,” said Springer at ASM.
Giovanni’s talk consisted of an array of anecdotes. She began by sharing the story of ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ and connected the popular tale to a deeper issue of bullying.
“One of the things I wanted to mention is why I hate Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It’s the dumbest book. People think it’s so great, but it’s about laughing about somebody who is different… Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer teaches you to be a bully, and nobody don’t want to have anything to do with Rudolph until they need him,” said Giovanni.
Giovanni continued with a series of sometimes humorous stories about equal representation in colleges, as well as her own experience with lung and breast cancer. The nature of her talk kept students like Fred Javier ’23 engaged.
Javier said, “I really liked it. It was definitely something different. It was really funny, but it also didn’t really match a lot of the topics that we were supposed to cover. A lot of the topics that she was talking about were really all over the place. They were pretty funny, but it seemed like she was going off on tangents.”
While Kareena Dua ’23 believed that certain parts of the talk were out of place, she shared an appreciation for Giovanni’s speech as a whole.
“I thought that Nikki Giovanni said some really wise things and I think she was really funny. She also was really bold; she didn’t really stay within the boundaries of what she was expected to say,” said Dua.
One of Giovanni’s points was for students to recognize the extent of the love parents have for their children, and to consider this as a recommendation against suicide.
Giovanni said “Sometimes when you think life is hard, life is hard. But there are responsibilities. But there is something, as [Martin Luther King Jr.] pointed out, called love. Can you imagine the sorrow in his mother when she had to bury her son?… Some of you are sitting in this room thinking you aren’t going to make it, that life is too hard, that nobody loves you and you have no friends. But those people who love you are out there, you just need to find them.”
Springer also commented on Giovanni’s words.
Springer said, “Students have told me that this has opened up some space for us to talk about suicide, a topic that they feel we’ve been hesitant to talk about, but of course we never want to be in a position to have this conversation in reaction to a moment that triggered members of our community. I hope that in this moment we will practice holding space for each—offering unconditional support with open hearts.”
Jake Zummo ’21 found Giovanni to be a “engaging and eloquent speaker,” and appreciated her contributions to Andover’s recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Zummo said, “I think Giovanni’s main message was that in addition to looking forward, we should look to the past as well to see how much has changed because of leaders, especially young people, who took a stand against injustice and have brought us to where we are today, and to continue their legacy of activism and social justice today.”