Celebrating Black History Month with Sonia Sanchez

Lauren Eden , Staff Writer

The audience in Marillac Auditorium sat in admiration as Sonia Sanchez, world-renowned Black Arts movement poet, activist and scholar, spoke inspirational words that reflect her commitment to peace and humanity.

A recipient of the Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry as well as the Langston Hughes Poetry Award, Sanchez realizes she is just one of the many influential individuals throughout black history. She began her reading at St. John’s on Feb. 11 by recognizing other important figures including Rosa Parks, Daisy Bates, Martin Luther King Jr., Common, Gloria Richardson and Bob Marley.

Sanchez has published over a dozen poetry books, so she has a lot of material from which to choose and read for her lectures. In order to decide, Sanchez said she analyzes the audience, picks up on their energy levels and goes from there.

Sonia Sanchez/Photo credit: St, John's Office of Marketing and Communications
Sonia Sanchez/Photo credit: St, John’s Office of Marketing and Communications

However, she does more than just recite poems; she performs them with all her heart and soul. “You cannot live in America without making a statement every now and then,” Sanchez said.

In one of her poems titled “Peace,” the poet says, “The cause of peace must be the preparation of peace.” As an activist, Sanchez has been a war protestor. In one specific instance, she and other elderly women known as the Granny Peace Brigade were arrested after peacefully protesting in Philadelphia. When asked what she would have done if she were enlisted in the army, Sanchez said, “I would’ve done push-ups for peace.”

Sanchez continued on to stress the importance of taking action and not being afraid to do so. “You have to be an activist for something with the idea of preserving the earth,” she said.

Other poems Sanchez performed included “Present,” “Song No. 2,” “A Poem for My Father” and “Middle Passage” which shows the struggles of slavery. In the majority of her readings, Sanchez scats and adds spontaneous musical sounds such as ‘ba-da-bop-boom’ which makes the poems sound more like songs and causes each verse to come alive.

“I believe Sonia Sanchez’s appearance at St. John’s was anything but coincidental, given the current socio-political plight in this country,” said Justice Beckford, a senior student who attended the academic lecture. “Ultimately, Sanchez for me is the living, breathing embodiment of one of my favorite African-American proverbs, ‘Each one, teach one.’”

When Sanchez’s lecture came to an end, she had a challenge for the audience: “do not twist or curl your tongue or say anything negative about anybody for one week.”

Sanchez received a well-deserved standing ovation and then joined students in the Writing Center where she answered more questions, spoke about life experiences, and gave us advice as a generation. “We have to put human beings before money again,” she said. “We need you all so badly to continue this struggle.”

Sonia Sanchez’s wisdom and understanding of the power of peace radiated throughout the room. She has encouraged us to be lights in a world that seems to darken.