Poet, Civil Rights Activist Nikki Giovanni to Return to Cincinnati for Juneteenth Event

During her early years, the influential poet lived in Cincinnati.

click to enlarge Poet Nikki Giovanni will be in Cincinnati for Urban Consulate's Juneteenth event. - PHOTO: PROVIDED BY URBAN CONSULATE
Photo: provided by Urban Consulate
Poet Nikki Giovanni will be in Cincinnati for Urban Consulate's Juneteenth event.

On June 13, the Mercantile Library will host “A Nanofestival of Black Joy, Liberation & Expression,” featuring author, poet and activist Nikki Giovanni. This event, coordinated by Urban Consulate, aims to spark dialogue around the many facets of Black life in the United States.

Alongside Giovanni, expect to see Cincinnati’s Poet Laureate Yalie Saweda Kamara, a screening of filmmakers Gee Horton and Shay Narkter’s work followed by discussion, and music provided by DJ Arie.

“I was fortunate to join Urban Consulate Cincinnati as co-host in 2019 alongside artist Gee Horton and spiritual director and designer Megan Trischler,” Naimah Bilal – a co-host of the event and the chief development officer at the Children’s Literacy Initiative – tells CityBeat.

“With generous support from the Haile Foundation, we kicked off our Consulate journey with a cross-city exchange that paired 20 local and national Black thought leaders — each pair offering a far-reaching conversation aimed at advancing equity-centered ideas, dreams, practices and social justice action,” Bilal continues. “Since that time, we’ve hosted over 40 salons that span a wide spectrum of topics but are all anchored in some manner by equity, anti-racism, racial healing and community care. We are well-rooted as a space in Cincinnati to participate in and hear honest and transformative dialogue.”

Urban Consulate is a collective of artists and activists who organize “salons,” or public forums, that address ways to strengthen the communities in which these conversations occur. The nanofestival is intended to amplify Black voices around Juneteenth, the recently recognized federal holiday that commemorates the end of chattel slavery in the United States. Juneteenth, which takes place on June 19, commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that enslaved African-Americans were free and that the Civil War had ended. In 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill designating Juneteenth a federal holiday.

“In the epic words of Black filmmaker and activist Toni Cade Bambara, ‘The role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible,’” Bilal says. “Juneteenth is a call to action as much as it is an invitation to remember freedom deferred and celebrate liberation. It’s with this spirit in mind that, in addition to having had a joyful and immersive experience, we hope folks also walk away recommitted to amplifying, leading, and participating in social justice and anti-racist oriented work that will advance equity.”

As the honored guest, Giovanni is “the embodiment of liberatory expression,” Bilal says. During her early years, Giovanni lived in Cincinnati. According to The Poetry Foundation’s biography on Giovanni, “Giovanni’s first published volumes of poetry grew out of her response to the assassinations of such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Robert Kennedy, and the pressing need she saw to raise awareness of the plight and the rights of Black people.”

Giovanni often is cited among other highly influential authors and poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin and Sonia Sanchez, and her works are considered essential reading for civil rights activists.

“Nikki Giovanni’s writing — from her poetry collections to her essays, to her children’s books – really are the defining works of the Black literary canon,” Bilal says. “Her work reflects both the everyday and quotidian aspects of the human experience while also exploring big expansive ideas – both in her early work during the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and still true today.”

Bilal recommends diving into Giovanni’s work through “Love Is,” “Mercy” and “Ego Tripping.” She also says that Giovanni’s children’s literature like Rosa and Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat are informative.

During the nanofestival, Cincinnati Poet Laureate Yalie Saweda Kamara will read works from her collections. Her piece “Mother’s Rules” brought forth a transformative experience for Bilal, who was on the poet laureate selection committee.

“It’s a stunning depiction of a child/mother dynamic that masterfully layers the complexity of culture, authority, faith, identity and love,” Bilal says.
Admission to the nanofestival is free, but space is limited.

“A Nanofestival of Black Joy, Liberation & Expression” will be held at 6:30 p.m. June 13, at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St., Downtown. Info: urbanconsulate.com.


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