Nikki Giovanni greets the audience in Mershon Auditorium with a smile from the stage at the end of the 46th Annual MLK Day Celebration Jan. 29, 2017. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | For The Lantern

On Monday, students, faculty and members of the public filed into Mershon Auditorium to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Frank W. Hale Center’s 46th annual MLK Celebration. The event featured renowned poet, author and activist Nikki Giovanni as its keynote speaker.

Although not likely to be mentioned in a textbook, Giovanni is one of the most prominent African-American literary voices. Her unapologetically black voice has evolved with her poetry and books to reveal complexity and diversity of topics ranging from civil rights to familial love to children’s literature.

Giovanni released several albums of her poetry recordings to the sounds of gospel and jazz selections. She walked on stage to the soft refrain “peace be still” from her recording of “The Great Pax Whitie,” performed by a few singers from the African American Voices Gospel Choir.

Nikki Giovanni raises her fist to the audience as she speaks about perseverance and overcoming challenges during the 46th Annual MLK Day Celebration at Mershon Auditorium Jan. 29, 2017. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | For The Lantern

Giovanni kept the audience constantly laughing and engaged. Her speech loosely center on America’s current political state, women’s rights, and race relations. Besides reading her poetry, she seemed to be speaking off-script and saying exactly what was on her mind.

“You must vote if you’re 18 years old, and wherever you live and whatever you’re doing, register and vote. Because that son of a b— in the White House, he’s stupid, he’s going to make us all crazy,” Giovanni said. “What he wants to do is depress us and make us think we can’t do anything.

“When we look at what my generation did and what Martin [Luther King Jr.] did … you have to recognize we broke down segregation. So your generation has something else to do, that’s what I’m trying to say. You’re not going to get rid of racism because as long as there’s white people, there’s going to be racism.”

Although Giovanni’s most famous work is arguably her poem “Ego Tripping,” an ode to black women, she made it a point to end her speech by uplighting and celebrating black men.

“This is a love poem because it seems that somebody should say it to the young men … someone should remind you that you are wonderful young men that you have a life in front of you,” she said.

“How many black boys have gotten shot, have gotten murdered because somebody, some cop, was like, well, ‘I was afraid of him.’ How can a grown white man be afraid of a 14-year-old boy?”

Members of the African American Voices Gospel Choir sing the conclusion of the 46th Annual MLK Day Celebration at Mershon Auditorium Jan. 29, 2017. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | For The Lantern

The pre-black history month tribute was revamped this year to showcase more of the talent of Ohio State students and staff.

The program opened with a candlelight vigil by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of its most notable alumni.

Several Ohio State faculty members spoke at the event, including Senior Vice President of student life Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston and Cynthia Tyson, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning.

There were also many artistic performances. Dionne Custer Edwards, a Wexner Center of the Arts educator, recited an original poetry piece; professor Dr. Elaine Richardson sang an original song; and the African American Voices Gospel Choir performed a selection of songs.

Recent graduate Alexis Goodman and Thomas Mengesha II, a third-year in neuroscience, were awarded the MLK Memorial Scholarship by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for their outstanding accomplishments both inside and outside of the classroom.

To conclude the night, Giovanni was presented with a resolution from Columbus City Council by program director of the Hale Center Larry Williamson.