Nikki Giovanni at 70 Grieves for Trayvon, Rocks for Hip-Hop

Nikki Giovanni at 70 Grieves for Trayvon, Rocks for Hip-Hop

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons file image

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Aware that jurors in Sanford, Fla., were deliberating in the George Zimmerman murder trial on July 13, Washington radio talk show host Newman asked poet Nikki Giovanni what she thought about the case.

“There’s no question in my mind that Mr. Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin,” she said soberly during a talk about her forthcoming volume, Chasing Utopia, held at D.C.’s Busboys and Poets bookstore and cafe. “If it hadn’t been for the outcry, the state of Florida would not have even charged him. America was a good idea but I don’t think it’s there yet. We’re so far in the other direction -- I try not to be discouraged.”

One person she’s disillusioned and extremely disenchanted with is President Barack Obama.
“I’m really disappointed in the president,” she said. “I don’t think that the President of the United States is there as a clerk. You’re supposed to change the conversation. His election hasn’t proven anything. We’re still running around killing people. Bad language is drones, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize and then sending 30,000 people to war.”

“If you go around Northwest, all you see is barbed wire to protect people. Money is something I don’t understand; I’m a poet. We’re spending so much money killing people and we don’t have a domestic policy.”

Giovanni said that when she supported and voted for Obama, she didn’t think she was getting Bush IV.
“… I’m not a politician, just a writer. I don’t think I have to say I agree with what’s going on. I’m disenchanted with this administration. My expectations were different. It’s very unfortunate that we haven’t had change. The color of one’s skin doesn’t make a difference.”

Track from Spirituals to Hip-Hop

Giovanni, who turned 70 last month, is an avid supporter of hip-hop and has talked and written a lot about the art form and its relevance particularly to those who produce the music.

“There’s a railroad track between spirituals and hip-hop,” said Giovanni, who has been bestowed with more than 20 honorary degrees. “Spirituals are the vernacular which is incredibly important to people. The enslaved were great people who found a way to tell a story. We have tried to silence these good men and women. They are using us to find their voice.”

“What they want to do is separate us, say what’s good and bad. They have not just the right but the responsibility to develop their craft. NWA was important.”

She spoke lovingly of Tupac Shakur.

“I was distressed when Tupac died,” she said. “When he was shot the first time I thought, ‘This will come to a bad end.’ He was incredibly talented and committed, and committed black men tend to get killed. Then there was the shooting in Vegas. I was so depressed and needed to do something.”
So Giovanni went to a tattoo parlor and had the person there ink “Thug Life” on her inner forearm.

“I talked to my mother, trying to make sense of it and I heard other people saying bad things about him. They needed to shut up,” she said.

The New York Times heard that she had a tattoo and visited her to write a story. Shakur’s mother, Afeni, found out what Giovanni had done and sent her a letter saying how much she appreciated Giovanni’s support of her son.

What thrills her most, Giovanni said, is that young black musicians and rappers have wrested their destiny from the hands of other people.

She explained, “We gave selflessly, but they are now entrepreneurs, have wealth and know how to handle their money. Bing Crosby buried Louis Armstrong. That won’t be happening with them.”