Acclaimed poet and author Nikky Finney paid tribute to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. during her keynote address for Vanderbilt University Virtual Commemoration January 17.
In keeping with the theme of the MLK Day event, “Where We Belong – Building Beloved Community,” Finney honored generations of black women who nurtured, educated and inspired King and countless others through what she calls the “mother load” of knowledge. She described what she called the long and invisible lists of black women at the center of each state’s historic struggle for civil and human justice.
“The combined forces of race, gender and economic discrimination have imposed a severely disadvantaged status on black women, but nonetheless black women have created and cultivated a set of ethical and moral values that challenge the status quo,” said Finney.
“This beloved community that the world desperately needs will need to remember and include the voices and wisdom of this Mother Charge, whether or not we know their names.”
Finney is the author of On wings made of gauze, rice, the world is round and Head Off & Split: Poems, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011. Her latest collection of poems, Love Child’s Casual Poetry Home, was published in 2020. She is currently John H. Bennett, Jr. Endowed Professor of Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina, with appointments in the Department of English Language and Literature and Curriculum African Americans.
The conference began with personal remarks from Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier; Dr. André Churchwell, Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer; and ended with a “question and answer,” moderated by Major Jackson, creative writing director and English teacher Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt.
Finney’s speech was the culmination of a virtual program that began with the annual interfaith candlelight vigil. It included students from Melanated A Cappella, Vandy Karma, Collegiate Black Christians, Muslim Student Association, Jewish Student Association, and Divinity School.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Series was established at Vanderbilt in 1985. The college community comes together each year on this national holiday for a range of programs, including participation in the town walk, community service, educational forums and conferences. By honoring King, Vanderbilt University affirms its own commitment to the goals of peace and racial justice to which King dedicated his life.
To view the address, click on HERE.