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Sail On to Higher Grounds


Linda Jones
  Nikki Giovanni encourages the audience to, ‘Sail On’

The 38th Commencement at the University of the District of Columbia on Tuesday, Sept. 25 could have been entitled Sail on to higher grounds. The first two words aren’t from this writer but our legendary Nikki Giovanni to whom the event was dedicated as a tribute.

Imagine this familiar scenario where you are at home with your parent, let’s say your mom. It’s well past 10:00 a.m. and she notices that you’re still sitting there like a hawk who has nothing to do, and she ask you what’s your plan for the day, and you answer that you have no plans. Professor Giovanni’s five minute address was more like a short story about this guy named Christopher who has no plan for the day. And his mother will not have it that way. Either he must have a plan or she’s going to put a gun to her head so he will devise one. If she doesn’t, someone else will, and Christopher will end up dead anyway.

Christopher do you have plans? Your mother insists. If you don’t, she goes on, you may have to leave. If you stay home somebody is coming to my door to say you did something to their daughter. So Christopher leaves and goes to Spain. In Spain he meets a young lady who falls in love with him because he is good looking as Italians usually are. In Spain he also finds a boat he can use to off if only he can shake off his infatuation with the woman. There comes along a character called Ferdinand who advocates for Christopher to get the boat, not because Ferdinand believes him but because he wants to get rid of him so he can have the woman.

Christopher is one tough boy who got let down early by so many people he got a boat and he sailed. He hit the Canary Island where everything is beautiful his companions suggest they stay here. You got the message; do not stay in the ghetto with those who would drag you down. You know the story of crabs in a barrel, Brother, don’t you? Anyway, as Christopher didn’t, thank God, stay in the Canary Island, so you need to remind yourself that you don’t go to class a few days a week just to prove a point. You go to class every day. The journey to education is long and tedious, sometimes rough and discouraging. There is no telling who is going to love you all the way through. “You may have to give up some things and some people. You sail on like Christopher Columbus did. You go on,” Professor Nikki Giovanni said. “Sail on.” She repeated and stopped.

The five-minute address was so energizing it prompted a full minute standing ovation from the audience. The auditorium was at once filled with the fire, the emotion, the strong conviction and the power of our beloved Nikki. She was untouched by 3 decades of activism, she was unbroken by 3 decades of witnessing injustice as is being displayed in Jena. 3 decades of success as a world renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator have not watered down Nikki’s energy. One had the feeling that the words she spoke came to her lips straight from the mouth of the Creator. One listened to her 5-minute address with the feeling that you were hearing the most enduring story about the indomitability of the human spirit and the virtue of persistence. And, as he ended the story, the audience was left was a greater hunger for more energizing words. Sail on to higher grounds fearly, I heard my mind saying as I left the auditorium.




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