Tuesday, June 06, 2000

Poet's visit speaks volumes

By Sara J. Bennett
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LINCOLN HEIGHTS — Nikki Giovanni, the award-winning poet who grew up in Lincoln Heights, told sixth-graders graduating from Lincoln Heights Elementary School on Monday never to forget where they come from.

        To shouts and applause, she spoke of the struggles her predominantly black hometown has faced since it began in the 1920s as a community where poor workers could own property.

        She spoke of the challenges Lincoln Heights faced when it tried to develop a tax base, only to watch neighboring communities hoard surrounding valuable land.

        She spoke of the problems that still exist in the community, and she spoke of the pride she feels when she tells people she comes from Lincoln Heights.

        “When all the world was cheating us out of our land, when we were being cheated out of our history, we stood, and we made a haven — a refuge — and it has got to mean something,” she told the students at a graduation reception.

        “Go forth, be wonderful, enjoy this life that you have, and take care of this history and this community that nurtures us all.”

        Ms. Giovanni, 56, who came to town at the urging of Lincoln Heights Mayor Shirley Salter, now teaches English at Virginia Tech. She told sixth-graders on Monday to “avoid stupid decisions” and to ignore people who may tell them they can't be doctors, lawyers or whatever they desired.

        “You have to remember, these are the same people that said, what good can come out of Bethlehem,” she said.

        Students answered her words of encouragement with a program that included singing, original poetry, and a group recitation of one of Ms. Giovanni's poems.

        Ms. Giovanni urged those students to use their talents to the fullest and leave negative influences behind.

        “From here on out, we make decisions for the future and not based on the past,” she said. “We let the anger stay behind. The people that held us back stay behind.

        “If we don't leave those people behind, they pull us down.”


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