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Wise Poets of the Present: Nikki Giovanni

Wise Poets of the Present: Nikki Giovanni

by: Shirley Satterfield

Nikki Giovanni: The Voice of Triumph in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting

On April 16, 2007 there was an unusual sound ringing out at Ambler Johnson Hall and then again at Norris Hall on the campus of Virginia Tech University, a school located in the peaceful, semi-rural town of Blacksburg, Virginia. It was the terrifying sound of gunfire which had left 32 students and professors dead at the hands of troubled English student Seung Hui Cho of South Korea, who then, finally, took his own life.
This was one of the largest mass shootings that was ever perpetrated in the US, but out of this deeply sorrowful event and the the utter chaos of it all, as the gun smoke began to clear, came the lone poetic voice of English Professor Nikki Giovanni who declared in a poem that she had publicly delivered in a sweeping speech on that same day asserting that the campus community would ultimately triumph over and prevail over the evil violence of the day and find the strength to move on in the aftermath of this tragedy to do the same great thing that they had always done as a campus family to make the world a better place.

We are Virginia Tech.
We are sad today and we will be sad for quite awhile.
We are not moving on; we are embracing our mourning.
We are Virginia Tech.
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly;
We are brave enough to bend to cry
And sad enough to know we must laugh again.
We are Virginia Tech.
We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does the child in Africa dying of AIDS; neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by a rogue army; neither does the baby elephant watching his community be devastated for ivory; neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water; neither does a Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.
We are Virginia Tech.
The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hand to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think, and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibility we will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. We are the Hokies.
We will prevail!
We will prevail!
We will prevail!

This poem, spoken in a speech to Virginia Tech’s “Hokie Nation” in a combination of free verse and prose poetry form, while making expert use of the technique of repetition, Giovanni reminds us all that although we cannot fathom the “whys” of violence and all the sufferings that are universal to innocent children and all nature and mankind that we will go on to survive all these bad things and even flourish because we must for the greater good.
Born in deep south Tennessee in 1943, Nikki Giovanni herself was no stranger to a violent era since she flourished as a poet during the turbulence of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA during the 1960s. She became an award winning poet who was recognized by the NAACP for her many literary accomplishments and her support of the Black Arts Movement and was also honored with the Book Award for her achievements in fine literature and has taught at several universities including Virginia Tech.

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